By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sympathy as, “The feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.” It defines empathy as, “The feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions, the ability to share someone else’s feelings”
The two words are similar and both are necessary when dealing with someone who grieves.
Don Calhoun, owner of the Little Falls Granite Works and a grief counselor, says that there are as many ways to grieve as there are people. It happens to everyone and each person handles the process differently.
“How we grieve is unique,” he said. “It’s 100 percent selfish. It’s our loss, our pain, our suffering. It is how we perceive the event.”
In her 1969 book “On Death and Dying,” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said there are five stages of loss and grief. They may not necessarily be experienced in the same order for everyone, but they are experienced by most.
Many people deny the reality of the situation as a defense mechanism. It’s not a bad stage, but one which can help carry the person grieving through that first wave of pain.
“Pain and grief is a part of life,” said Calhoun. “We need to get into it to get over it. To deny our grief disconnects us from our emotions and that’s not good on the long-term.”
After denial comes the reality of the loss and then the pain sets in. It can be expressed as anger directed at others. It can be directed at the lost loved one, the doctors who took care of that person during the end of his or her life or friends and family.
Calhoun said it’s OK to be mad about one’s loss.
“Sometimes bad things happen,” he said.
But, there can be a huge cost when hanging on to pain and anger too long. Seek out a priest, pastor, close friend or relative to talk to, said Calhoun. Seek an empathetic person.
“If that anger is directed at you, never say ‘I know how you feel,’” he said. “No one can know how another person feels. It’s better to say, ‘When I experienced a similar situation, this is how I felt.’ It’s all about being a true friend.”
If a friend or relative is mad due to a loss, Calhoun said to be emotionally honest and forthright with them. Ask questions about what the grieving person is feeling. Spend time with them. Allow them to be open with their feelings. Encourage the grieving person to continue living. Be nurturing and sympathetic.
“It’s good to just be there. Close friends can give the highest level of therapy there is,” he said. “Make the person grieving feel as comfortable as possible, both physically and emotionally. Respect, trust and confidentiality are most important.”
Bargaining and guilt
The “If only” reactions may seem to help someone regain control, but it’s only another line of defense. “If only I was there more.” “If only I took him/her to another doctor.” “If only I could have prevented the accident.”
Wanting life to return to the way it was before the loss occurred is natural, but guilt can be a partner to bargaining. It can take an emotional toll to remain in the past or find fault with what happened and not move forward.
This stage of grieving will pass.
“Guilt is probably the most painful companion of death,” said Kübler-Ross.
Empty feelings appear as grief becomes deeper. Depression feels as if it could go on forever and makes the griever wonder if there is any point in continuing on alone.
“Depression after a loss makes it seem as if you will never be able to move on,” said Calhoun. “But people need to make a conscious decision to not wallow in grief. It won’t be easy, but it will only take 45 seconds to make that decision to keep on living. It’s the process of letting go.”
It’s important to remember that depression is a normal response to loss and is not a symptom of mental illness.
It is healthy to feel the grief; to allow it to flow during the grieving process. Many people feel withdrawn, yet calm during this process. It’s not necessarily a happy time, but it’s not depressing, either. Others may think the grieving person is all right with the death of a loved one, but that’s not necessarily the case.
The acceptance phase is when those left behind have accepted that their loved one is gone and they must get used to a new reality without them.
For some, this grieving process may take much longer than for others. It is an unique process. When someone who has experienced a loss begins to reach out, accept them and help them live again.
“Dying is something we humans do continuously, not just at the end of our physical lives,” said Kübler-Ross.