Grief can be defined as the emotional reaction to a loss. It is a very natural and normal reaction. The bereaved need to go through grief in order to heal. In hospice, of course, we think about grief as a reaction to death. But throughout life there are many types of losses that we might grieve.
We can grieve a divorce. We grieve the loss of a job. We can grieve the loss of a home or a change in our health or our mobility. Some grieve the loss of their youth and no longer being able to do the things as easily as they used to be able to do them. To no longer have a car or to no longer be able to drive can be a big loss. It means the loss of independence.
In hospice, we see a lot of what we call, “anticipatory grief.” Our patients and families often have been grieving even before the patient enrolled in the hospice program. Just realizing and knowing that the patient’s condition will not improve and that he or she will only get worse and eventually die can cause grief. Sometimes these feelings of grief start months or years prior to a death. It is possible for people to have done much of their grieving prior to the death and by the time death occurs the impact of the death is lessened. The family may even feel relief because their loved one is no longer suffering.
You may have heard that grief comes in stages. We have come to realize that grief does not fall into nice, neat stages and that it is not predictable. There is no timetable for grief. If you are grieving and need to talk, try to find someone who is compassionate and a good listener.
The best thing that you can do, if you are trying to be supportive to someone who is grieving, is to listen to what he is saying. You should never assume that what you may have experienced when coping with a loss will be the same for someone else. You are not expected to have answers.
Often there are no answers. Just listen and try to understand what the bereaved person is saying.
Shock or disbelief is a very common initial reaction to a loss. It sometimes happens even after an extended illness. Shock is our mind’s way of protecting us from the full impact of what has happened. During this time you may feel numb and have difficulty concentrating and making decisions. If at all possible, accept the help of others to get you through this difficult time.
Loneliness is a very common feeling. There may be certain times of the day or week when feeling lonely may be more intense. For some evening is the worse time, for others it may be morning or weekends or at church.
A few people may feel anger. That anger may be directed at the hospital, doctor, nurses, family members, friends, or even strangers. Anger is sometimes directed towards the deceased. There may be anger because the patient did not take better care of himself or he should have gone to the doctor sooner, or he should have quit smoking, etc.
Grief work may never be finished. Time does make it better, but there are events when we revisit our grief. Other funerals, graduations, weddings, the birth of grandchildren, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and the anniversary of the death can all bring back memories. Over time, good memories will outnumber the bad. Everyone has their own way of grieving. Always remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve a loss.
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