Editor’s note: This is the first in a month-long series on mental health. This week’s feature discusses grief.
One of the definitions of grief is “a deep sorrow.”
Many typically think of grief as a response to someone’s death, but it can occur after a loss of any sort. Children may grieve a divorce, a teenager could grieve the end of a relationship, or a family might even grieve for the home they grew up in on moving day. Regardless of the situation, grief often goes hand-in-hand with feelings of sadness, pain, agony, affliction, and heartache, but can also express itself in many other ways.
“I remember when I got the call about my grandmother’s passing,” said CrossWinds Counseling & Wellness Development Manager Lucas Moody. “She suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last 3 years of her life. As I looked at my family, I realized we all had different vantage points. Some emotional, some relieved as the suffering was over, some seeking attention and some searching for ways to comfort and help. Even though we all were dealing with the same loss, we all dealt with it differently. “
The way an individual deals with grief can be explained by a range of different theories. One of the most popular theories belonged to Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who identified the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, a trend commonly referred to as the “grief cycle”.
Denial is a stage that can help a person get through the initial news of loss, helping numb them or making them doubt the negative events have even occurred. As someone starts to understand the event though, anger often sets it. Here, one might start to blame others and begin to develop a feeling that life just isn’t fair. Bargaining occurs when an individual makes “deals” with someone else, themselves or even a higher power in the hopes that they can simply avoid the grief they are feeling.
The most commonly accepted form of grief — and the one that most people associate with — is depression. Loss can often leave an individual with a pervading feeling of emptiness, making them withdraw from others, begin to live in a fog and lose the desire to get out of bed.
The stage of acceptance — often considered the “end goal” for many going through the grieving process — can be when a person starts to feel that they’ll be okay despite the loss, eventually coming to terms with a “new reality.”
“I think one of the main things to remember is that when we experience a loss, we still never totally get past it, and that’s okay,” said Kurt Haberkorn, a licensed clinical social worker at CrossWinds with years of past experience working with patients and families in hospice care. “We learn how to live with it, and from that process, we often grow from loss. “
Originally, it was thought that all people went through each of the five stages in a particular order. Through more research however, it has been found that the stages are often not linear, and some people may not experience any of them, let alone all of them. It is also believed that some may experience a particular stage more than once.
“It’s easy for me to realize that I experienced all five stages multiple times, and that I continue to experience anger and depression despite having accepted my mom’s death,” said CrossWinds CEO Amanda Cunningham, whose mother passed away almost 10 years ago after a battle with breast cancer. “Despite watching her fight the disease and understanding it’s implications, it was easy to deny that she could die and question why it was happening to our family. There were lots of conversations with God of ‘Why can’t it be me’ and promises that would be kept if only she were allowed to live”.
Unfortunately, grief due to loss also has a funny way of showing up when least expected, triggering the recurrence of painful emotions. It’s not entirely uncommon for such feelings to redevelop even after years of little to no complications.
Cunningham remembers a particular day several months after her mother’s passing.
“I was driving to work one morning and out of nowhere I just started to cry and was flooded with thoughts of my mom,” she said, “While this happens less now, there are many moments I catch myself being suddenly and overwhelmingly taken by thoughts of my mom, which are always followed by an intense emotional reaction.”
Another common example of this phenomena could be a situation such as hearing a car door shut around the same time a lost loved one used to come home and feeling the yearning for them all over again. Some may develop new rituals or continue old ones, like making a bed or setting a place for a loved one that is no longer living.
“We were eating at a restaurant in Kansas City when the chef sent out a desert,” remembers Moody. “It was cornbread cake with buttermilk and honey glaze. Upon the first bite, tears filled my eyes as I remembered growing up and my grandma always trying to get us kids to eat cornbread and buttermilk with honey drizzled over it. I never tried it, but I felt like she was there laughing at all the years I missed and giving me one of those, ‘I told you so’ moments.”
Grief places a lot of stress on an individual’s body and psyche, commonly resulting in bouts of sudden crying, lack of sleep, changes in appetite, irritability and a desire to self-isolate or stop caring as much about general physical and emotional wellbeing.
“The thing about a sudden or important loss is that it often affects all areas of us,” Haberkorn said. “It’s like our mobile of life, if you will, becomes out of balance. Part of the healing process involves finding that new balance. We have to be willing to be humble with ourselves. We have to be willing to recognize that we’re not all-powerful. A big part of that is continuing to include other people in our lives and our grieving situations.”
While experiencing any type of loss is difficult, the ability to process it, work though it and establish what’s next in life is especially crucial. To that end, medication and counseling are the most common methods of treating grief and loss, often combining to help an individual work through unresolved emotions, especially when past events may be creating obstacles in everyday life.
Staff at CrossWinds Counseling & Wellness want community members to know that there is no right or wrong way to work through grief as everybody’s personal process can look entirely different from one another.
“CrossWinds Counseling & Wellness wants to be there for you and your loved ones,” Moody said. “We have trained clinicians that are here to help process and work through your personal grieving process. We want everyone to know they are alone and that we can help. Anybody thinking about receiving help can give us a call at 620-343-2211 to request an appointment. They can also learn more about our services at www.crosswindsks.org.”