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  • Writer's picturefrederique STREF

Loss and Grief

Today I would like to talk about how we deal with loss and grief in 2020, a situation we are all facing at some point in our lives, and today more particularly because I have heard several times this year, testimonials of extreme difficulties to go through this moment of intense pain and destabilization.

There might be all sorts of personal losses, loss of job, having a baby (so potentially losing your job, your freedom ,your sleep), accident, illness and loss of physical integrity, disability, loss of autonomy, bodily changes due to illness or accident, moving and loss of stability, burglary (loss of personal objects), loss of connection with friends and family, loss of freedom, losses of potential or of faculties (loss of sight, earing loss), loss of a pet, break-up in friendship, sentimental break-up, divorce, loss due to children's independence, loss of interest, enthusiasm, joie de vivre, loss of social connection…. and so on.

And of course, losses due to death; This can create immense level stress or extreme traumatic shock that can sometimes recur long after the event. Grief is a natural emotion and could be divided into different stages.

Bereavement is not a disease but it can lead to the symptoms of the disease or even create one. Stomach aches, insomnia, stress and severe headaches are some of the side effects experienced by a person who is grieving.

Some people may cry, become silent, logorrhoea or lose their appetite. Because of this stress, sleep patterns are disrupted and this leads to a weakening of the immune system.

We can here briefly describe some stages of grief:

  • Denial : In denial , people refuse to face what has happened

  • Anger : Anger can manifest inward or outward and also towards the deceased person

  • Bargaining : people try forget the reality of what happened and may invent some deals with their God or themselves.

  • Depression : A depressive state is very common and manifests itself by spontaneous crying spells, difficulties in finding sleep despite feelings of extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, loss of interest, etc.

  • Acceptance: At this point the person can accept their loss and come to terms with it.

The time of mourning depends on the nature of the loss and the person's mental state. There is no set time to deal with, digest, and deal with grief, yet this theory has been disproved by many people. They believe that pain is too complex to be defined by just five or seven well-defined stages. For most people, the loss of a loved one leads to a whirlwind of emotions.

Losing a loved one or something that was essential to the existence of a person can be an overwhelming situation and the natural result is great suffering.

Although the grieving process is very subjective, everyone tries to deal with grief in their own way. Helping client work out his/her path through this emotional pain while keeping in mind that the client will come out of it is part of my work. There is no right or wrong way to reconcile with the loss, only the client’s own way of overcoming feelings of extreme sadness, and counselling sessions would be a great support.

When it comes to grief a loved one, the particular global situation we are facing in 2020 brings new emotional challenges. The impossibility to travel, to be present, to greet a relative, to get to the ceremony is an overwhelming phenomenon that generates additional anxiety and pain.

Indeed, whatever culture or religion we belong to, every community has always organized rituals to gather together to pay homage to the deceased.

Mourning is as singular as the other emotional challenges, until now in the majority of cases, we had the possibility to attend to the ritual , and funeral ceremony could also become a soft moment, where one is surrounded, there is something collective where humanity finally meets the essential.

It is a moment where we commemorate each other, where we hear a part of the story of the deceased's life that can have extraordinary, even comical effects. There can be laughter and tenderness too, the people gathered will have loved this deceased person, will have something to say about the person, something one wish to share.

Can one live serenely with one's dead?

It might be a work beyond oblivion, beyond the dolorism pattern, how to find a space just to leave them space without being invaded. Can this terrible event also awaken a strange intensity to life, without indecency to be joyful and happy, or can it or on the contrary generate an energy of defiance to death ? Melancholia and loneliness can be overwhelming, silence can be dangerous.

To illustrate the contemporary attitudes toward death in our societies and how do they affect the treatment of dying. Here is a story some of you may relate:

My grandparents died when I was a child. In my family, we have never been able to talk about it, it's a taboo. I still don't know today whether this silence is imposed because the pain of the loss is too violent and impossible for my parents to express, or out of modesty, or whether social codes of good conduct require us to be dignified by behaving as if nothing had happened.

Although I was unaware of it until recently, I suffered a lot from this imposed silence, having to repress the feelings that upset me when I was 5 years old at the loss of my grandmother to whom I was very attached turned out to be a tragedy during my psychoanalysis. The fear of abandonment , guilt , defiance towards death then became part of my basic structure. I haven’t been able to grieve before my 48 years old after many sessions of psychoanalysis to bring this topic out.

A French writer HG writes to her dead: "Happiness is a fold of mourning, it is ferocious, intense and pierces the monotony of sorrow, it comes through the body, I want to live, love, enjoy, think, laugh, I owe you this intensity and I destine it to you".

Would it be the music of the dead, everyone has their dead, that everyone has this intensity of living? to be seized by this strange and extremely strong vital force that can also overwhelm, because joy can come back. Because even the saddened hearts will with time and words change their gaze from the departed to the living, from crisis to peace, from despair to hope, from isolation to community.

Do not wait to talk about your emotions, I am here to receive them. What’s in words ?

Frederique STREF – Counsellor / Auckland – French and English practice.

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