Death, Grieving & Mind Health

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In October’s message I spoke about my Nana turning 100. This week, at 100 and a quarter, she passed away peacefully in her sleep, surrounded by children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Amazingly enough, less than 24 hours before she died she was lucid, chatting and was letting those who cared for her know that she was experiencing an abnormal amount of pain. They managed her pain with a centenarian’s little helper and not long after that she went to sleep. No fuss, no drama, no fanfare… really not like her at all! All of us recognise the wonderful blessing her dignified departure was for her as well as us.

In response to Nana Peg’s passing I decided to focus the next episode of my Radio Show ‘But I Feel Good’… talking Pink Elephants and Black Dogs on grief and grieving. To me, there is a clear link between grief, grieving and mind health. There is much written about the subject of grief but many of us avoid it and rarely take the chance to educate ourselves about how we and others might respond to grief and loss. So here are just a few things to get you thinking about how prepared you and those you care about might be for the passing of a loved one… especially unexpectedly.

How young, how unexpected and the relationship with the person who dies are three significant factors in how we respond to grief and loss. As is how recently or the number of deaths of other loved ones. Minutes after the passing of my Nana, my 10 year old nephew came out into the corridor, walked straight up to me and said, “Ten is too young to have gone to three funerals!” I agreed with him and we spoke about his 20 year old cousin’s death while shooting hoops at a neighbour’s house, the death of his grandfather 12 months ago and now his Great Nana. We decided we’d both had enough and that he would be an ‘old man’ of 33 before we wanted the next funeral – his grandma, at 100.

A number of people in my family were evidently experiencing a layering of grief which showed up in very different ways. All responses to grief and expressions of sadness are acceptable – no matter how different. Whether you’re and expressive crier or silent and stoic, how you grieve will be right for you!

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is well known in the field of grief and loss and she puts forward that there are several stages of grief or loss that many of us will typically go through. Even as we go through these stages there can be a great diversity of expressions and experiences of grief.

The Kubler-Ross Model proposes that in grief we will firstly experience denial or shock. People can faint, stand still in open mouthed silence, or I know in the case of hearing of my nephew’s passing, “What???” was about all I managed. All these things can be about escaping the awful reality you’re facing. People will tell you “I’m fine!” when they’re clearly not. People might also respond by telling others that it is not true. This is usually a temporary stage.

The second stage is Anger. When people can no longer sustain the denial they might move to anger. They might be angry at the person who died for ‘leaving them’ or they might be angry because they feel the death is unfair and should not have happened to them.

Then there is Bargaining. Bargaining often shows up for a person expecting to die and is seeking a little bit longer. If they could live for another year, see their child turn 5 or make it to Christmas.

Depression is the next stage. During this stage an individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. Depression occurs when the realisation that the person is really gone and they are not returning sets in. People’s responses differ depending on their defence mechanism.

The final stage in the Kubler-Ross model is Acceptance. This stage is characterised by the grieving individual knowing their loved one is resting and that it is for the best. This allows people to begin moving on with their life.

This is by no means a comprehensive summary of the stages of grief. It is a brief overview designed to give you a sense of what you might expect to happen when people experience the loss of a loved one. The critical factor related to mind health is that people do not become stuck in the depression stage. Depression as defined in the Kubler-Ross model is not the same as clinical depression. However, it is possible that this depression, as a response to death of a loved one, may become a trigger for clinical depression. If you are concerned about your own or another’s response to grief a sensible first choice is a visit to your GP (General Practitioner).

There are many great references for strategies for dealing with grief both on line and accessible through counselling or therapy. My Grief Assist is a great starting point for more information.

Because your Mind Health Matters…

Jacqui Chaplin | | +61 (0) 412 741 531

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