As the Nobel prize winning author Thomas Mann once wrote, “a man’s dying is more the survivor’s affair than his own.” This is partially true—depending upon the way we die and at what point in our lives. Of course, the way in which someone dies, whether it’s sudden or drawn out, influences the grieving process for those left behind. Every situation is deeply personal. and everyone processes grief differently.
There is no correct way, or wrong way for that matter, to grieve. For some people, once they know their loved one is dying, they subconsciously begin the grieving process in what is known as anticipatory grief. For others, they don’t accept it until the person is gone. And for some, death can be so sudden that it takes some extra time to process the event leaving onlookers to mistakenly believe that the person is not in mourning. However people manage to grapple with their grief, it takes time once the person is actually gone.
In our non-stop society, people are expected to resume their routines in mere days or weeks after a loved one has passed. This is asking too much. Days or weeks are not even enough time to get over the initial shock of someone’s dying. If you have recently experienced a loss, understand that you may need to take time off; whether that means time off work or time off from the world, both are equally valid. We need a change in how our society deals with life events, including loss. We are just now fighting for universal maternity leave and like a birth; I would argue a death can be just as transformative and important of a life event.
While grieving, there will understandably be less time for friends, neighbors, and coworkers. This inadvertently puts distance between the person grieving and those who are not. Also, many people realize that after a death their priorities will change. Sometimes, people are alienated simply because non-grievers don’t know what to say around someone in mourning, so they distance themselves without realizing it.
People need community, however, and there are options. Even if your loved one was not in hospice, you can still turn to hospice for its bereavement services. There are trained professionals who deal solely with grief. For children and teens, bereavement services are especially important. Children oftentimes blame themselves and teenagers fear embarrassment through public displays of grief. Children can serve as an important way to reach adults—adults may be more willing to seek help for their children than for themselves.
There are of course grief groups that can be immensely therapeutic. Some mourners find solace in speaking to their religious leaders or current therapist, but these people, while good-intentioned, may not be fully trained to help cope with grief. There are certified bereavement counselors who may be better equipped to help. Leaving grief unacknowledged, however, is not good. Unrecognized grief can turn into pathological grief, which as you can guess, does not usually have successful outcomes.
Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Senior Planning. Senior Planning offers a free service designed to help seniors find and organize care, move into facilities, or find benefits.