Bereavement is the loss itself.
Grief is the period of acute upheaval.
Mourning is the lifelong effect of losing.
The mind is a massive memory bank that surpasses any man-made computer. Everything you ever see, hear, do, taste, or experience is lodged in that memory bank. The tiniest parts of a relationship are recorded. The big moments are there as well. This vast store of information is carefully catalogued, but the bits of memory don’t come tumbling out with the push of a key. Some memories may come forward at the most unexpected and inconvenient times. A song, a picture, a place, an event, or an anniversary can trigger the release of a memory never reviewed. This can happen months and even years after the loss occurs.
The release of these memories causes temporary upsurges of grief pain. At first you may fear that you have not grieved well, but upon closer examination you realize you have never reviewed the secondary loss brought to the surface by the sudden memory. This explains why a person has short times of acute sadness decades after a major loss.
Exercise: Stop and think about your own losses. Have you had this experience? Share it with this group or with a friend. Rest assured that this is very normal and in keeping with the nature of your memory bank.
You’ll Never Be the Same
Everything you experience in life molds who you are. Many of life’s experiences happen gradually and change your life in subtle ways. A major loss, on the other hand, comes to you with hurricane force. Changes are profound. You become different in a short time.
People who have had major losses may take life more seriously. They may be more mellow. Less materialism, more spirituality, more sensitivity—these are examples of some of the changes.
Exercise: How have losses made you different? Discuss this in your group. Don’t hesitate to mention some of the negative changes and how you plan to rectify these.
Marriage and Home Will Be Different
Some of the past literature on grief stated that a high percentage of marriages ended in separation or divorce a year after loss, but this idea was based on poor research. If a marriage is already weak, it may be in trouble if a couple doesn’t have a good support system. Healthy marriages feel the effects of loss, but they do not come apart when loss occurs. Many couples report that living through a loss brought them closer.
There are seven levels to a marriage relationship: spiritual, friendship, emotional, communication, social, physical, sexual. We will look at them one at a time.
Spiritual level. Two people have a relationship with God. They do not force their relationship on each other because each person is unique in his or her friendship with God. On this relationship rests a healthy marriage. After a loss there is a temporary loss of faith. Concepts of God come into question and must be reexamined. It takes time to reconcile loss and the God-concept.
Friendship level. Friendship develops and stays alive by doing enjoyable activities together, but during grief there is an aversion to pleasure. This is due in part to the reactive depression that comes with loss. This is not permanent. A couple needs to be patient and lean on the friendship that already exists.
Emotional level. Being friends helps to understand your own emotional needs and tones, as well as understanding those of your spouse. Grief throws a couple into an emotional tailspin. Until a reasonable balance is achieved, a couple cannot expect the usual emotional support from his or her spouse. That’s why many couples benefit from support groups and individual counseling.
Communication level. When two people understand each other emotionally, communication is a rewarding experience. After a loss communication is difficult. Some people withdraw and grieve privately. Talking about feelings may be difficult. Often a person doesn’t talk because it is extremely painful, or he or she is afraid that talking will cause the spouse to have too much pain. It is important to recognize that the cause of the pain is the loss, not talking about feelings. It is also wise to agree that you will ask your spouse if he or she is agreeable to talking before you launch into an intense conversation. Both parties should know that the communication barrier will not stay up forever.
Social level. In a healthy relationship there is time to reach out to others, but in grief there is a strong desire to move away from people. It is good to keep socializing limited to a very few occasions. Build fire escapes into every engagement. In other words, let the host of the social event know that you may not be able to stay very long. When you feel emotions rising and tears begging to be shed, simply excuse yourself. Getting back into more social life must be a gradual process. You may never be as socially active as you once were.
Physical level. Owning and caring for house, yard, car, and clothes is a rewarding experience, but grief leaves people exhausted and lethargic. Mowing the lawn and cleaning house will not be top priority. There isn’t enough energy because reactive depression is a natural energy conservation measure. Respect your energy levels. Put some things on hold. Accept offers of help from friends.
Sexual level. Sexuality includes much more than intercourse, so don’t be upset when your spouse’s sex drive has diminished. This is very common during grief. Practice the many other forms of intimacy until this temporary decrease in libido ends. Respect for your spouse’s feelings is essential at this time.
"It was in these recent years that his sister helped him through increasingly erratic and darkening days. She bore the brunt of his growingly self-destructive behaviors ... alone. She was his confidant and counselor, out of respect for his wishes she shielded the rest of us from the worst of his anguish and carried it by herself even as her career was growing and the responsibilities of motherhood were increasing."
– NAMI Utah Suicide Survivor
"My grief lies all within. And these external manners of lament
Are merely shadows to the unseen grief
That swells with silence in the tortured soul."
~ William Shakespeare