Grieving Is Individual

Stanley Kissel, Ph.D., a retired clinical psychologist, was an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology at Monroe County Community College, Nazareth College and the University of Rochester. Dr. Kissel has authored five psychology books and conducted workshops throughout the United States. He is on the board of the National Widowers’ Organization.

Grieving is not a permanent process that follows one of life’s major stresses. Grieving is the body’s way of coping with an overwhelming shock after the loss of a loved one.

Some religions prescribe a specific course of behavior following the death of a spouse or family member— tasks to be performed, type of clothes to wear, markers for when to begin and end the mourning period.

Some social scientists believe that grieving unfolds in stages and each stage is associated with specific feelings. Yet others consider it a psychiatric disorder.

I DO NOT AGREE!

Before retiring I was a board certified Clinical Psychologist and a Diplomat of the American Board of Professional Psychologists. After losing my wife of 48 years, I became a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Men’s Bereavement Group because I believe that men grieve differently than women. I am now an officer of the National Widowers’ Organization, an international organization which evolved from the men’s group and has become a world-wide resource for recent widowers.

It is my contention that grieving is individual and there is no right or wrong way to experience it. It is the mind and body coping with a crisis of life, the loss of a loved one. It is the beginning of getting from point A to point B. That is why it is very important not to deny the loss and bottle up all feelings. That would certainly be the least effective way to handle the loss. It would be another crisis waiting to happen. For men unused to revealing emotions or feelings, a men’s bereavement group could be very helpful. Why do I say a men’s bereavement group? It is a known fact that men and women grieve differently. Women are more often comfortable openly expressing their emotions than are men. Whether due to nature or nurture, this difference colors how the different genders grieve. Being surrounded by other grieving men makes it easier for reticent members of the group to allow themselves to express their feelings.

There is no set of specific stages, emotions or coping mechanisms that must be experienced or expressed. There is not a time to be angry and a time to shed tears. Members of my bereavement group described in many different ways how they felt after their loss. Some felt as if they were walking around under a dark cloud and never knew when the manifestations of grief would erupt. All spoke of crying suddenly at unexpected times. Many cried openly during the group meetings. Others described themselves as walking through a dark tunnel with no light in sight. Some berated themselves for being unable to cry while others experienced guilt when they began seeing another woman, afraid that it was too soon. Yet for others, guilt prevented them from even starting new relationships. A 70 year old member of the group told me privately that he would never again have sex with another woman. Some expressed anger at their spouse for dying. Some mentioned a feeling of betrayal. Some revealed feelings of helplessness and were at a loss of how to cope with the day to day aspects of living. Staying at home and avoiding friends was one coping strategy, and running out of the house throwing themselves into activities another one. Some took medication to help them sleep, others stayed up into the wee hours watching television or listening to late night call in radio programs. A number of men had taken care of their ailing wife for some years prior to their wife’s death. Their loss was a double one. Not only did they lose their spouse. They also lost their role as care-givers which had become a major part of their identity. Some of these men found little reason to get out of bed in the morning while others felt a sense of relief that caused them to feel guilty.

When I was grieving and felt overwhelmed by sadness, I found it helpful to remind myself of the happy times my wife and I shared together. At those times, in spite of the tears rolling down my cheeks, I could feel the parting of my lips breaking into a broad smile. Sinatra had it right when he sang, “I did it my way.” Grieving is individual: one size does not fit all.

There is an end point for the grieving process. Grieving is a temporary state in a person’s life, following the loss of a loved one. It gives the mind and body a chance to cope with one of life’s tragedies. The primary aim is to help the griever with the process of moving back into life. To say that grieving is done is not to say that your loved one is forgotten, or that you will not experience pangs of sadness or shed unexpected tears occasionally. Your lost loved one will remain part of you, and contribute to shaping your future.

Moving on, or as I like to think of I, moving forward, is a gradual process that is the beginning of the post grieving state. You will find yourself looking forward to going back to work or begin to enjoy going out to dinner with friends again. You’ll feel more comfortable attending religious services. Dating may be something you might consider or you may find yourself ready to begin a serious campaign to meet other women. I decided to try something new and different. I started writing novels, a close friend took up bridge, and yet others decided to take up a new vocation. As I am fond of saying, life is for the living. Grieving is necessary but it is a temporary stop on the highway of life.