“Let’s Talk About Grief”
(The following is a conversation that appeared, in part, in the Quad-City Times “Start Your Week Off Right” column on March 13, 2017 by Missy Gowey, Genesis Philanthropy.)
If you’ve ever pulled the covers over your head and called off Monday, you know how difficult it can be to start your week off right emotionally. Practicing good nutrition and fitness habits can help ward off Monday malaise, but what about those times the extra weight you’re carrying is the burden of grief?
To find the answer, I called Rev. Jon Yarian, coordinator of Genesis Grief Support.
Jon, falling back into a routine on Mondays can be tough for anyone. If you’re struggling with grief, how can you be expected to march into the week with optimism?
Missy, often it can be encouraging knowing that grief is a part of a cycle we all have been in our whole lives beginning with our birth: loss-grief-change. Though the significant loss can be more intense with a variety of grief experiences, we as humans have great resiliency and there is support, like from the Genesis Grief Support Cooperative.
How do we know if what we’re feeling is normal, or if we need help?
Significant loss, especially the loss of a loved one in your life, leaves you grieving not only the person whom you miss, but the unmet needs that are present in your life now due to this person not being here on earth to meet them anymore. Many people do have good coping skills and support networks to help them navigate their grief experiences (physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, etc.), yet many do not have that these resources to help them. I fear many grieving people who do have these resources are still only coping and surviving rather than finding hope again and thriving in their life's new normal. As grief support specialists we can offer the additional help needed to learn to live with your loss and find healing for the hurt. If you recognize you have unmet needs or grief experiences that seem beyond what you and your support network can handle, please reach out to us on that Monday!
But what if reaching out for help means sharing personal experiences with strangers? That's frightening!
It can be scary. That's why we offer two avenues of support that do not require you to share publicly or at all. In a grief counseling session you speak confidentially one on one with a grief counselor. Our offices are at Genesis Medical Center's West Campus in Pavilion 1 on the fourth floor. Our suite 460 is tucked far from the public of the hospital with private counseling rooms and compassionate staff to listen and offer counsel and care. We also offer a grief education course each month rotating around the Quad Cities Area where you can learn about "Understanding Grief's Journey" without having to share anything personal at all. Many people find this a great starting point to learn about navigating grief experiences and they meet others on a similar journey who also maybe timid about talking. We see many people moving from the course to a grief support group because they have found a friend having similar grief concerns to theirs before or after a class.
Why is it so hard to talk about grief?
We as a society, especially in this Western world, have trained our children, generation after generation, to show in our expressions, speak about, sing, laugh, and even shout out when we are experiencing a perceived positive emotion; yet if the emotion we are experiencing is going to be perceived as a negative emotion, then we’re conditioned to isolate, tough it out, deal with it privately, be strong for others, etc. Two examples: Your child gets disciplined for doing something wrong and the punishment is a loss to them. They are getting what they deserve, right. So when they cry, many a parent, even me, has said, "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about." or "Go to your room if your going to cry, I don't want to hear it." As adults we do the same thing to each other in the simple act of trying to help by handing someone a tissue when they start to cry. We think we are helping, yet subconsciously we have just told that grieving person that we are uncomfortable with their tears and grief and that they should stop crying and grieving. But grief is good because it is natural and normal and tells us that something is wrong that needs attention in our life. Tears are a tribute to a relationship of love! Set the box close, but let them reach for the tissue when they are ready. Welcome the tears and the story of love lost and that begins grief's healing journey, which is the name of our program.
So grief is good?
I hear you Missy, "Good grief. There actually is such a thing?" Yes, grief is good, yet painful. No grief or pain at all is great because that's when we are most likely to the healthiest and happiest. However, think of grief from this perspective: When you get a physical cut the pain hurts yet it is the pain telling you something is wrong in your body that needs attention, lest you get an infection and remain unhealthy. Grief is like the emotional pain to a deep wound in your life caused by a major loss. Grief also involves the mental questioning and physical responses and much more that is a part of a grief journey because we are holistic beings. The Genesis Grief Support Cooperative's mission is to provide to all who grieve from life loss or significant change counsel and care to promote holistic healing. As we you grieve five things should happen - not in any order and not all at once - for healing to take place as we learn to live with our losses. Grieving involves navigating the tension of missing what was and learning how to adjust to life’s new normal with unmet needs. It can be a healing journey with the right support. We help people in five areas:
- Accepting the reality of their personal losses by identifying unmet needs they now have.
- Adjusting to environments without their loved one, their former job or home, etc.
- Allowing and attending to their emotions so that their grief is fully experienced and processed.
- Achieving lasting connections with their loved one or loss to honor that relationship.
- Actively, yet at their own pace, engage in their life’s new normal in ways that provide meaning, value, purpose and significance.
When my dad died, I didn't just lose my dad. I lost my father figure, my best male friend and my go to mentor for managing daily living. Even though it has been years, I still miss him and have had unmet needs last for quite a while. No one person could have filled his shoes. Yet for my three unmet needs of a father figure, best male friend and mentor it took much time to build new relationships where those unmet needs were filled. In addition, while the first years of grieving hold grief experiences triggered by unexpected memories and anticipated special dates without a loved one for the first time, these grief experiences can linger if these five areas above are not addressed fully. I have know people grieving a loss deep inside for decades because they didn't fully realize all that was truly missing in their life and didn't have the help to identify these things and address them.
Americans have been blessed with a Medicare mandate that recognizes that grief in the first thirteen months of a person's life resulting from the loss of a loved one with a hospice requires free bereavement services be available. Yet many in our community have significant life loss and change that happens prior to an end of life experience, such as with a serious health decline or diagnosis, a divorce; and, many who do have an end of life experience are not blessed with hospice care due to the suddenness of death or a suicide. Thanks to a grant from Genesis Philanthropy, who recognized the need for a premier provider of grief support for our Quad City Area, we can now come alongside anyone hurting from grief so that our population can live healthier and happier lives. Grief unaddressed can propel people to serious negative physical and mental states that can be avoided if those grieving are made aware and take advantage of the Genesis Grief Support Cooperative services. May all of us who experience loss, and we all will, find again great hope, happiness and health. Let us help.