Experiencing the unthinkable.
The sudden loss of a loved one.
A child. A spouse, partner. A family member, friend, student, teacher, mentor, co-worker, neighbour,
Out of our control. Disorientating. Shattering. Debilitating. Overwhelming. Confusing. Frightening.
Something so gut-wrenching. Life-changing…and without our permission. We are unable to regain our balance, for we react to this loss with such intensity.
This is natural. Our body is in a state of emergency.
Do we all react to this state of emergency the same? No. Some of us may become very able, operating at a high level of efficiency. Others may become detached, and appear numb to the circumstances surrounding them. While others may cry and fall to pieces. But we do all react.
Think about if you cut your finger quite badly. It will bleed, the wound will require immediate attention as it is likely an emergency. Do we all react the same in this situation? No. Some of us will be perfectly calm, some will cry, scream, have a panic attack, and some of us may even pass out at the sight of the blood. We will all react differently, but we still need to treat the cut.
What is a “normal” reaction to the loss of a loved one, during the initial days, weeks months?
- spontaneous emotion
- temporarily blocking the long-term implications of the loss
- seeing the lost one
- confusion and disorientation restlessness
- irrational fear
- forgetting the lost one is gone
- anger and resentment
- feelings of guilt and blame
- physical disturbances
- too busy to mourn
- obsession with memories
- unexplainable experiences
- and more…
“Normal” is a wide range of behaviours or reactions.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed the Stages of Grief that describes the series of emotions we tend to follow as survivors of a loved one’s death. These stages help us to identify what we may feel as we progress through the grief process, but the process may not always be as straightforward as this.
- Denial/Shock “No, not me!”
- Anger/ Flood of feelings “Why me?”
- Bargaining “Yes me…But at least…”
- Depression “Oh no, it is me.”
- Acceptance “So be it.”
Back to your cut finger for a moment.
You have made it through the first phase: you bled, reacted (your way: calmly, passed out, cried, screamed or perhaps some other way), and had it treated.
Now the skin will typically seal itself within 48 hours (or more if stitches were required). Once it is initially sealed, the body begins to develop a scar by developing scar tissue, filling in the area between the wounds edges. This can take months or years.
This healing process has three stages:
- Inflammatory – “the angry red stage” (body produces antibodies to fight off infections, scab forms)
- Rebuilding – this can take months and there may be setbacks, but the wounded skin will get stronger
- Maturation – It can take years for scars to fully heal. As time goes on, they will continue to slowly fade. There are products that can be used to help fade the scars more quickly. Once improvemment is no longer seen, ithe products can be discontinued.
Note: Irregular Healing – not all scars heal well or the same.
Now, what do cutting your finger and losing a loved one have in common you ask?
Let’s compare the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief and the Healing Process:
Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief
Healing Process for Injury
1st Phase: bleed, react, treat
Sudden tragedy, overwhelming, frightening, “State of Emergency”
2) Anger/Flood of Feelings
1) Inflammatory “angry red stage”
Spontaneous emotion, impatience, irritability, resentment, mad, asking “Why me?”
Takes time, many months and there may be setbacks, but strength will come
It can take years for complete healing. Scar products/grief support services can be used to help guide this process.
Not all healing is follows the same path at the same time*
Not all scars heal well or the same*
NOT ALL HEALING IS THE SAME*
Healing… whether it be from an injury, or from tragedy or loss of a loved one by way of the grief process, follows a similar pattern. No matter what “your” process is, even though it will be different from others’, it is natural and it is normal. Grief looks different in everyone, and to everyone. Grief is a very individual process. The only trait that is common to all, just like in the healing of a wound, is: it takes time.
Let me explain why I feel so compelled to discuss grief today.
Our town of 14,000 people (and surrounding areas), has experienced many tragic deaths in the past few years.
My heart is breaking for the parents, siblings, families, friends, the youth, the teaching and coaching staff, and the communities as a whole, that are repeatedly impacted by the sudden deaths of youth. There have also been many parents of children in our community lost, many grandparents, incredible contributors to our community and more.
You will not overcome the loss of a loved one. You will learn to live without your loved one.
You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you suffered.
You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to be the same.
– Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
I am beginning to question, in particular:
How much can our youth handle? How much loss in a community is too much loss? What is the best way to address these losses? Are we doing enough?
Do youth truly understand loss and grief?
Is social media enough of an outlet for them to express their grief?
Is the online community creating an ability for everyone to stake a claim in your loved one’s death through sappy posts that misrepresent who she/he was?
Is social media rationalizing death but obscuring the “reality of loss”?
Does it create an impulsive need to ascribe meaning to senseless tragedy at a safe distance, rather than be deeply human?
Does it allow us to avoid the uncomfortable physical interactions (that we have always wanted to avoid… be honest), and avoid addressing death in person, with the bereaved? Or because we have addressed it on social media, do we now feel more comfortable addressing it in person, since it is not the first time?
Is social media creating a lack of genuine empathy and connection, or is it making us more aware and bringing us closer together?
So many questions. So many different answers based on both opinion and research.
Does it provide a beneficial podium for mourners to speak of their loss?
- Does it create a pressure to speak of grief and loss, (especially for teenagers)?
- Does it demand tending to your ‘followers’ needs, rather than your own? Providing them with updates and inspirational messages about your recently lost loved one?
- Does it create a strain between navigating your personal grief and your ‘followers’ or ‘friendships’?
- Do you feel forced to reflect too much at a time that you don’t have the capacity or energy to manage it?
- Do you feel it serves as a form of group therapy to handle difficult issues such as death?
- Does having your voice heard online make you feel supported, as though others have compassion and empathy for you, when they ‘like’ your post?
- Does seeing the multitude of photos, videos and funny and inspiring stories of your loved one, posted by others, in different contexts, offer you comfort?
- Do you feel that hashtags (#) that promote positive messages about your loved one help with the healing, and provide teachable moments to teens?
- Do you believe that social media allows those that did not know your loved one very well , really get to know them now and understand your loss more deeply?
I have left you with a lot of unanswered questions. Really, only you know these answers. There has been research, but the experts support both the benefits and drawbacks of the use of social media when grieving the loss of a loved one. Since the grieving process is as unique as we are, for each individual, the answers to these questions will be as well.
What we do know is this:
- Loss of a loved one causes our body to go into a ‘state of emergency’, and none of us will experience this reaction the same way. This is normal and natural.
- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’, Stages of Grief describe the series of emotions we tend to follow as survivors of a loved one’s death and help us to identify what we may feel as we progress through the grief process.
- The Stages of Grief are comparable to the Healing Process when we suffer from a badly cut finger. Healing is healing, it takes time and is different for everyone, but follows similar phases. This is natural and normal.
- Youth and Grief… I have posed many questions. What are your thoughts?
- Digital Grieving… Since the grieving process is an individual process, different for each of us, researchers are divided on their thoughts as to whether or not the use of social media is beneficial in the grief process or not. What are your feelings on this?
With compassion and empathy,