Opinion

AT RANDOM: Dark subject sheds light

They say everyone deals with grief in their own way, at their own speed, in their own time.

There is no timeline for grief, as Dr. Alan Wolfelt confirmed for all those packed into the Vernon Lodge ballroom a couple of weeks ago.

Wolfelt, an internationally renowned author, educator and counsellor on the subject, spoke passionately about the need for people to mourn.

Yet society has built up all these pressures, expectations and rules for how one can grieve.

“You get 14 days to be sad and on the 15th day you are diagnosed with a disorder,” said Wolfelt.

It’s true, society expects someone to almost instantly bounce back following the loss of a loved one.

You get a few days, or maybe a week off, and then are expected to be fully functional again, both at home and at work.

Meanwhile, that short break hasn’t even begun to allow us to grieve or mourn. It’s simply the time needed to make arrangements for the deceased, plan a funeral, reach out to friends and family and possibly start the never-ending paper trail of loose ends that need tying up.

It’s comforting for anyone who has lost a loved one to know that it’s OK to be sad, or angry or even scared long after your two weeks is up.

In fact Wolfelt encourages it. He says there’s a lot of hard work in mourning that needs to be done and there are side effects which you should not be shunned for having – slowing down or adversely keeping yourself busy and not being able to focus on one task at hand.

“These are excellent symptoms to have,” he says, adding that death is an appropriate time to slow down, whether it’s convenient or not.

Normal grief mimics clinical depression, he adds.

“I would highly recommend sleep disturbance, mood disturbance and eating disturbance.”

One nurse in the audience attested to the fact that our healthcare system has no understanding of grief and mourning.

“We take people who are not moving too quickly and we medicate them.”

Sometimes it can facilitate a person’s mourning, but the key is to work through it, not avoid it or simply “move on.”

“Understand the feelings and be open,” said Wolfelt of being present to another person’s pain, not taking it away.

These days, people want to stop the pain, they want to hush it and make it better.

But pain is a perfectly normal emotion, and it’s something that we need to feel and show when we have lost someone very dear to us.

“It’s OK to be sad,” said Wolfelt, noting that 18-36 months is what studies show is the heightened period of sadness. “Don’t rush it.”

That is also true with children.

Wolfelt explains how children are often shielded from the pain of losing someone.

“Any child who is old enough to love is old enough to mourn.”

And part of that mourning is being part of a funeral, not being shuffled off to the babysitters.

Although it’s a parental instinct to protect children from pain and suffering, they are valid emotions which need to be expressed in order to properly mourn.

Protecting people from pain and inconvenience is something that has actually changed the face of many funerals today, often eliminating them altogether.

Society and culture have changed so much that there aren’t even processions anymore. People used to bring food and flowers, now everything is “in lieu of.” Visitations used to be three days, now they are an hour, if that. And no one ever knows how someone dies anymore, they are “protected” from the truth as details are left out in obituaries and at funerals.

So although death is never easy to broach, it needs to be in order for the proper process of grief and mourning to take place for all.

 

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