Adjusting to Loss is a Painful Process

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist

As the awareness of the absence of the partner begins to get a hold of its own, the struggle between the hope and despair begins to intensify.  While despair breeds dejection and apathy, the hope and wish for reunion fuels searching for the lost person.  Let us now look at the specific behaviors of searching in bereavement:
1.  Restless moving about and scanning the environment.
2.  Thinking intensely about the lost person.
3.  Directing attention to all signals, sounds, and cues that were linked with the lost person and the withdrawal of attention from all that is not relevant to his or her "presence."
4.  Directing attention to those parts of the environment in which the lost person was likely to be found.
5.  Silent calling for the lost person, which can be sometimes loud and vocal. 
Marked restlessness, inability to sit still, aimless moving about, and continuous searching is reported in the first few weeks of bereavement.  There is a rush of speech when talking about the lost person.  The survivor is preoccupied with the thoughts of the lost person.  Some have a vivid visual picture of their loved one, "I can see him sitting in the chair."  The survivor frequently misinterprets the sights, sounds and other cues for the presence of the loved person.  Reports of hearing the deceased coughing, calling the survivor, and moving about the house at night are not uncommon.

 Expectancy of the return and the reunion with the lost person is dominant in this phase.  Survivors feel drawn towards places and objects associated with the lost person.  They visit places they frequented together when their loved one was alive.  At another time, they feel drawn towards the hospital or the place where the person died.  Survivors feel compelled to visit the cemetery where their loved one is buried.  They may not leave home because they expect their loved one to return any moment.  When they do leave home, they feel a strong urge to return home and check.  They may return to the objects that were treasured by their loved one, thereby making a "contact" with the lost person.  Loud crying and sobbing, of course an expression of sorrow and mourning, can also be a survivor's attempt to recover the lost person.  In severe stage of grief, we all return to that helpless child within us whose crying once used to bring the caregiver back.  Perhaps our "child mind" remembers that crying and screaming once helped us to attract the attention of adults and to get what we needed  In fact, the survivors are reported to call out for the lost person with a moan, with words to the effect, "Where are you?  I need you."  

To continue with the analogy of a child, note that crying and screaming, if not attended to right away, throws the child in to a rage.  He kicks up his legs contorting his face and his whole body curls in a fitful rage.  It is of course not so demonstrative in adulthood, but survivors do experience anger in this period of searching and calling the lost person.  This anger may be directed towards such persons, as the relatives, members of the medical staff, pastors, one's own self, and/or the person who died.  The persons who are the object of this anger may be viewed by the survivor as negligent or responsible for the death of the loved one by omission or commission of certain actions.  Anger towards the persons who died may be felt because by not caring for themselves, they may have in some way contributed to their own death.  The anger towards self may be for failure to take an action or for harsh words spoken.  Anger may be experienced real intensely or it may be manifested in general irritability and bitterness.  During this time, anger may also be felt towards God.  The more the death is seen as unfair and untimely, the greater may be the anger towards God.  
 Anger does serve a useful purpose if the loss is temporary, that is, if a person is removed temporarily.  In that case, anger gives the energy and the thrust needed to overcome obstacles to a reunion with the lost person.  Survivor still believes the loss is temporary.  It is like the separation from the loved one in the early life.  The adults, a child is attached to go away temporarily, the child is distraught, searches for them, protests, and they return.  That is what the mind wants to believe even now.  Unfortunately, this loss is permanent.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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