Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ages of Grief

It's been a long, long time since I've posted.  Sorry about that!  I've been doing a lot of thinking about many different things.  In fact, I wrote something early last month, but I did not feel I could post it here due to HIPAA laws.  It was about my experience with someone I cared for at work, something that didn't mention names but mentioned enough for some to figure out who it was.  I did not want to risk my job over that.

Also, simply put, for the past month and a half, I have been dealing with some pretty heavy feelings.  I have been averaging a death per week at work.  Again, these are things that I can't put into words due to legal reasons, but I don't really think I could anyway.  It has been hard enough to be honest with my friends, to be able to talk about it.  Usually, the response I get is, "You have a really tough job," or "It really takes a gifted/special person to do what you do."  Both of these statements are true.  For some reason, I didn't want to believe either of them.  I wanted to believe that anybody could do what I can do, that I'm an average Joe.  But I've realized that I am not that.  It's ok for me to say that I have been blessed by God and to not sound cocky.

Not only would it be an insult to God to say that I was average, it would be an insult to everyone I know.  I have a friend who helps hundreds of kids a day, kids who are not used to being hugged, and now they are hugging back.  To call her average and say that I could do what she did would be a lie.  She's exceptional.  I have a friend who heals dogs, cats, horses, and probably lizards... everybody's animal babies.  To try to give care to something that can't verbally communicate with you is a gift.  She's exceptional.  I have a friend who is gifted at writing, writing that I can connect with and help validate my feelings.  I don't give her the credit for how well she knows me.  She's exceptional.  My friends are blessed by God, and it's good for them to say that.


Now that I have gotten what is on my mind at this moment out of the way, it's time for some organized writing.  I would like to focus not on the traditional "Stages of Grief," but what I call the "Ages of Grief." 

Everybody goes through grief differently because of the uniqueness of personality.  Grief can be filled with joy, sadness, or both.  Grief can be long or short.  Grief can happen whether you knew the person closely or you knew them in a professional respect.  You might grieve over loss years after the loss happens.  In summary, grief has many faces and modes, so try to be patient for those who grieve, and don't try to push them to move on when they're not ready.  Now that I have completed that soapbox tangent, let me explain the "Ages of Grief" concept.  I have realized that based on your chronological age, there are certain facets of the grief entity that can be more pronounced.  These facets can be emphasized on your understanding of death and loss and the type of relationship that you have with the deceased.

Readers: Please feel free to reply if you have anything to refute or add.  I would love to consider other ideas since I am writing this to help my understanding of grief.  In this way, I can help others grieve and help them realize that to grieve is to be healthy.

In childhood, grief is defined by the relationship of the child to the deceased and how much the child knows about death.  When I was eight (I think... Mom might tell me I'm wrong), my grandmother died.  Mom had spent about a year coming back and forth between home and my grandmother's home in Pennsylvania to be with her.  I don't remember her funeral service, but I remember being outside, a brother on each side, looking down at a small box covered by a silk drape.  "Why is the box so small?  She can't fit in there," I thought, since I had sense enough not to ask this question out loud.  No one had told me about cremation.  "Why do I have to dress in black?" was another question that kept resonating in my mind.  I didn't cry that day, perhaps because I was so intrigued about the process of it all.  A few months later I started dreaming about her and waking up crying in the middle of the night.  I think for kids, the fact that a loved one is not there and the feeling of missing him or her is how grief expresses itself the most, unless it is a parent who died.  Loss of a primary caregiver must hit much harder because the person who expressed love through safety, support, and need is now no longer there to provide security.

As a teenager and young adult, grief expresses itself as early and heartbreaking loss, whether it is a parent, the loss of one's child, or a significant other such as a spouse.  The person who is grieving might feel "cheated" because the one that he or she lost was active in their lives in a special way.  I have met several adults at my job who are in their late teens and early twenties who lose a mother or father to cancer.  They feel "cheated" because Dad still needed to walk them down the aisle, or Mom was supposed to be there to help them with the first grandchild.  I was too young to remember when Pappaw died, but I'm sure Dad felt this way.  He lost the person he would have gone to with family problems.  Loss during the teenage and twenties years brings on an increased, inherited sense of responsibility to care for one's own family with similar loss.

It is hard for me to describe the process of grief for those aged 30-60s.  Mostly,  I have seen that loss can happen at all angles--loss of a friend, child, spouse, parent, etc.--and many losses can be related to disease, especially cancer.  Also, loss of a loved one is still earlier than what it should be.  I have found that people in this age range find many ways to cope, such as supporting a loved one through the cancer journey by fundraising or advocating for certain organizations.  People in this age range also tend to use technology to share information with other members of the family and friends.  If anybody has any information to share about loss during this age, please share because I know that my conclusions here are incomplete.  One thing I do know is that it seems that no one should have to experience the loss of a child.

For those ages 60s and up, grief is primarily defined by a feeling of loneliness.  Loss of friends and family can be overwhelming.  I don't know how to explain it in eloquent terms, but everyone "just dies of old age," to quote my grandmother.  Loss of a spouse instigates the greatest amount of loneliness, and the loss of friends and family that have "been with you through the ages," such as siblings, adds to that loneliness.  I have often heard the elderly express "I am now by myself" or "I don't have anybody anymore."  It is not hard to believe that when one spouse dies, the other spouse might die a few weeks to months later if the feelings of loneliness are that strong.

To tie this all up in a whole-- again, please be patient and supportive when someone is grieving.  It is very hard to understand what the person might be feeling, but sometimes just listening is the best thing you can do.  Validate their feelings and emotions by saying that it's ok to grieve, and help them through it all.  For what I call my "mini-grief" sessions related to work, it helps me when people listen and pray for me.  When the time comes, someone will do this for you too.

No comments:

Post a Comment