By Tracy Lee
I live in a world filled with grief. My work dictates that I see it every day.
Grief is not universally the same for everyone. Professionally, I have observed that it is uniquely coded into a survivor’s collective history. It is personal with recovery predicated upon one’s abilities, strategies, and skills.
Although some would have you believe it is depression, ADHD, PTSD, a personality disorder, or some other pathological condition, it is not. It is a normal and natural reaction, albeit painful, to significant loss. It carries emotional, physical, and psychological consequences through interference into one’s comfort and health by reducing abilities to concentrate, sleep, and eat. It decreases one’s tolerance levels and coping skills and evokes fear in a multitude of facets. It imposes loneliness, creates insecurity, causes significant and immediate lifestyle changes, and at times catapults one into dire straits. In short, grief is a foe whose significance is based on the survivor’s reliance, depth of love, and/or responsibilities toward the deceased. It is the ultimate adversary to harmonious living. Additionally, one should not treat grief as a pathological condition through self-medicating or prescription drugs as these will only mask the pain, inviting illness to set in and disease to take hold.
Lack of resolution carries extreme consequences. If a survivor has compromised health or engages in a prescribed medical treatment for illness or disease, he/she would be well advised to avoid interference in their regime. A study of widowed persons found that the overall death rate for the surviving spouse doubled in the first week following the loss. Additionally, heart attacks more than doubled for male survivors and more than tripled for female survivors. Overall, surviving spouses were 93 percent more likely to get into fatal auto accidents and their suicide rate increased by 242 percent. (Mortality after Bereavement: A Prospective Study of 95,647 Widowed Persons, American Journal of Public Health 1987)
According to the US Census Bureau (USCB), 13 million survivors enter grief annually. Many of them suffer the pain of grief for 10 to 40 years. If grief-stricken survivors stack up over an average of 25 years, the number increases to 260 million suffering within the US borders. That is 80 percent of America’s population. “Thousands of mental health professionals report that although their clients come to them with other presenting issues, almost all of them have unresolved grief as their underlying problem.” (The Grief Recovery Method, Guide for Loss)
Unfortunately, many confuse Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ study, a.k.a. “Kubler-Ross Model” on death and dying as the “Recovery Road Map” for survivors. The confusion lies in that her study concentrated on the stages of grief suffered by dying persons. She does not apply her findings to the survivor’s experience of recovery. In the blink of an eye, the survivor is faced with a very different scenario of life. He/she must instantly face the financial, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual realities and adjustments of survival after loss. The senseless association of the Kubler-Ross Model as grief recovery by universities and media has led to misinformation and confusion for those suffering grief.
To recover from grief, one must travel through it; not dance around it. We need smaller experiences of loss through earlier years from which to draw. The loss of a favorite toy, the death of a pet, or relocating and making new friends all serve as foundational experiences to prepare us for the ultimate loss of our loved ones. Unfortunately, society has robbed us of many of these foundational losses and recovery experiences. Many have never learned good sportsmanship by experiencing the disappointments of defeat while playing ball against their schoolmates as children. Others have never had to overcome relationship disappointments, as their friends are virtual rather than actual. The point is that our society is ill-prepared for the pain associated with loss. We live in a pseudo-reality filled with desensitizing scenarios of death. At some juncture, however, reality comes our way. One day, we will look at our electronics and feel-good scenarios and realize that whether we are prepared for it or not, we will participate in life based on the terms set forth by eternal laws of truth. That is the day that you will receive an unwelcome wake-up call into the pitfalls of adult realities, responsibilities, and crushing grief.
Do yourself a favor. Put down the electronics, the virtual realities, and the hyped up desensitizing entertainment programs sensationalizing violence and mass death. Doing so will allow you to experience life as it should be, with real joy, real fulfillment, and the ability to achieve meaningful recovery.