Understanding and Acknowledging Grief

Ask the Experts by Marla Ruhana, LMSW

Q. There is immense sadness surrounding me now as my father has died and my husband has been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Although we're both grieving my father's death, my husband's grief seems worse? I am so confused, can you help?

A. I'm so sorry about the death of your father and your husband's diagnosis. Grief can show itself in many different forms, loss of a loved one, loss of a limb, divorce, job loss, loss of home, loss of a pet, loss of who we once were when we experience onset of chronic illness. Many are also grieving in particular decades of their lives as they introspect on what they thought their life would be at a certain age. Expectations and disappointment instill grief too.


Q. So you think my husband is not just grieving over my father?

A. Correct. There are several stages of grief, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote of the five stages of grief in her book, "On Death and Dying", according to her, the stages are denial, anger, depression bargaining, and acceptance. Seems shock is also part of grief as well as social isolation. Every individual is different, some stay in the anger stage for years, others move through these stages within each day, for years. Everyone experiences grief in their own way and for a variety of reasons. Your father's death might be triggering previous deaths of loved ones your husband has endured, as well as the onset of grief of who he once was, assimilating to who he is now, as well as multiple other stressors he might be experiencing, ie; if he has to go on disability, his grief might be complicated due to losing his role as provider for your family and financial pressure.

Q. Interesting. Well, I think I am in the anger stage of grief. My husband is not there for me, and I am disappointed and shocked as the friends I thought would be there for me, are nowhere in sight! You sure learn who your true friends are when you lose a parent! I am sorry but a text message is simply not enough! It amazed me how some people did nothing!

The things people say, it seems it is all about them, "We can't believe your father is gone" Really? How do they think WE feel? Now that the funeral is over, I cannot even believe I am already back to work? I returned to work as that is what was expected of me, I feel numb and it seems so wrong.

I feel I have been thrusted back into my life, my normal routine, against my own will, and I am unable to do what I need to do, not that I even know what that is-just how I feel). It  is like the entire world is still moving forward and has not allowed me the chance to grieve, the world moves, people continue on and I feel stuck, with my heavy heart, and the world expects me to jump back on and forget, yet it feels impossible, as if everyone has already forgotten I am grieving, and no one is patiently waiting for me to process this grief and when I do it would be refreshing if those dear to me, were there with a hand held out to help me get back on with life in a forward direction. Do you have any suggestions for me?

A. I am sorry your support system feels so limited. Sadly, you are correct, Cokie Roberts narrated a film, "Who we are, and how we grieve" several years ago, I never forgot that film.

The panel said we are unlike most other cultures in terms of grief. Other cultures have customs for coping with death. I am convinced it is brilliant to wear black for two years (as the first year, we are typically numb, the second year of grief is typically more difficult), then when someone says, "wow, why is she so irritable?" maybe black clothing would remind them you are grieving the death of your loved one. Hopefully this ritual would allow others to show compassion, respect, and be there for you.

Our culture is very uncomfortable with death, even the word itself. It is important to say death or died as it helps those grieving move through the stages of grief. We will never change how others cope, but you can be proactive and seek out a grief and loss support group or simply surround yourself with those who do provide you with the support you need.

Psychotherapy with a therapist who specializes in grief and loss is also beneficial.

Q. My father's death was sudden and I did not get to say goodbye. I find myself isolating as others want to compare their losses to mine, it makes me angry as they do not know how I feel. How do I cope with this? 

A. I think it is fine to kindly tell them everyone grieves differently. It seems that many who are trying to offer support want to spare you pain, and say, "You will get over it in time", It is absolutely false to think that we will ever completely get over the death of a loved one. There are so many forms of grief, complicated, anticipatory, disenfranchised grief, depending on your relationship to the deceased, and if you experienced sudden death, suicide, a death with no closure, unfinished business, death of a child and illness of a young person can seem inconceivable, or if you have endured multiple deaths of loved ones in a short duration of time.

All these things can further complicate grief.   We must utilize all of those in our lives whose support does in fact comfort us, grief and loss support groups can be helpful, psychotherapy, and at times a psychiatric evaluation as medication in conjunction with therapy can be beneficial. Be mindful, even with the best help and support, we might function in society again, be able to share laugh with a friend, but we may never stop missing those we have lost and loved. 

Marla K. Ruhana, LMSW is a clinical social worker in private practice in St Clair Shores. She also teaches cognitive behavioral therapy in the Graduate School of Social Work at Wayne State University. For more info please visit her website at www.marlaruhana.com or call 586-801-4701.

Ruhana is a member of The Family Center's Association of Professionals.

The Family Center, a 501C 3, non-profit organization, serves as the community's hub  for information, resources and referral for families and professionals.  

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