Greiving Can Involve Heavy Demands

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D.

Mourning makes tremendous demands on a survivor.  In order to heal, we have to go through the pain.

There is no way to escape the pain, if we are still attached to the lost person.  Reminiscing, talking and sharing the associations and experiences related tot he loved one are painful, but it is through actions such as these that we can get a handle on grief. Separation from the lost person is attained through love, anger, anxiety, sorrow and a  myriad of other emotions.  These are the demands a healthy mourning makes on us.

To experience the loss and come to terms with it within a reasonable time:  The loss has to be "experienced" before it can be accepted.  Acceptance of loss demands that the survivor withdraw the emotional investment in the deceased person.

To feel the pain of mourning and to bear it without falling apart:  Pain comes from the intense wanting, searching and yearning for the lost person and from guilt, fear, anger and other negative emotions that accompany the loss.  Feeling the pain is healthy, but the pain is to be borne without serious disruption in the mental an physical functioning.  We can't neglect the health, safety and welfare of our own or our family for whom we are responsible.

To tolerate and, as time goes on, to overcome the anxiety related to the loss:  Anxiety is losing a loved one is deep rooted in us.  Children when separated from parents become intensely anxious.  It is a survival response.  A child's life depends on the continuity of care and thereby on the presence of caregivers.  When a parent is even temporarily absent, the child become instantly anxious.

My earliest memory about my fear of losing my "protector" (older brother) is about the time when we went to Delhi, the big town, 35 miles away from my hometown.  Before the day was over, we were told that my brother was to stay overnight to see a medical specialist in Delhi, and I was to return to my hometown.  I was repeatedly told that it was just for a day, and I would be able to see my brother the next day, but I cried and screamed all the way home for leaving him there.  The repeated assurance that my brother would come home the next day didn't pacify me.

For me, the next day meant "Never."  Children can get terribly anxious when separated from parents or parent-surrogates.

As we grow older and form other relationships we come to depend on others emotionally or physically or both, and therefor transfer the same anxiety about losing them that we once had as toddlers.  So when we experience a major loss as an adult, those earlier anxieties intensify the pain in some form or fashion.

In a healthy process of grief, we first tolerate the anxiety related to the loss, and later, we overcome it by relying on our own strength and the strength of other positive relationships. 

To experience and, later, to overcome the sorrow related to the loss:  We overcome the sorrow by ending the constant searching and wishing for the return of the lost person.  In the beginning, the wish to regain the lost person stays intense and persists for a long time even when reason suggests its futility.  We continue crying in sorrow, hoping and wishing either for the lost person to return or for ourselves or others to do something, somehow to bring the deceased back.

This behavior also stems from our earlier responses of separation.  A child separated from its mother demonstrates the "seeking behaviors" very visibly -- looking sideways, and front, towards the entrance, expecting, watching, waiting and crying.  Sometimes in fear and sometimes in sorrow.  Crying brings mothers back; they will leave whatever they were doing and take care of their child.  So crying is a form of urging and calling the loved one to come back.

We adults enact these behaviors in less discernible ways.  Nonetheless, we do search, try to recover, silently call and sometimes scream out loud for the lost person.  Sorrow deepens in the beginning, but, eventually, we all have the capacity to, and we do overcome that deep sorrow.

It is only when the grief becomes complicated, sorrow goes on for an unduly long period, breeds hopelessness and makes one feel totally helpless and alone.  When that happens, the cause is often depression.  The survivor may have a previous history and or tendency for depression, the loneliness and isolation may be severe or family and social support may be inadequate, which makes even harsher demands on the survivor.  Building and reviving a survivor's support system is a very important step in such a situation.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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