“Nothing lasts forever” is a phrase that’s often hard to swallow but it is a reality we all face. The question is: how do we ‘go on living’ when we lose someone close to us, or something we treasured dearly?
This was the subject of a recent lecture/discussion at the Duncan Moore Centre at the Sharon Moravian Church, chaired by US-based, Haitian born mental health therapist Dr Abel B. St Amour.
He defined loss as “any situation in which something valued or cherished is no longer available or is changed in some way”.
He explained: “There are many different types of loss, not only the death of a loved one or acquaintance, but also the breakup of a relationship, when children move away from home, change in jobs, relocating to another home or another country.
“Loss brings grief with it, which can manifest itself physically, spiritually, mentally, financially or academically, and it can be dangerous when you lose something or someone and never take the time to grieve over it,” he added.
Dr St Amour told the audience that the length of the grieving process “depends on how close you were to that person, your age, and the other things going on in your life. It is important to have support during this time, either on a group or individual basis.”
The specialist said, “Sometimes when you know the person is “on their way out”, such as when they have a terminal illness, it might be a bit easier as you will have had time to prepare, so if they were suffering beforehand, you may see their passing with a sense of relief. If the person who died is young, we might consider it unfair. But a case of sudden death, like a murder or car accident, will take us off guard and must be handled differently”.
Grief can lead to feelings of guilt, because “sometimes we feel that if we were ‘better’, the incident would not have happened; we are paying for the sins of previous generations; we may think there was more we could have done to save the person or help them in some way, and in the case of accidents, drivers may be concerned that had they not taken that road, or driven so fast, they would not have ended up in that situation.”
He cautioned that when we want to offer help to people facing a loss, we had to take several factors into consideration and be wary of what we say or do during the process.
“Sometimes we are insensitive to the needs of others when they experience a loss. For example, when we move as a family and our children have to go through the process of changing schools and making new friends, we often tell them not to worry about it, but if we see our children become withdrawn, start acting out or their grades start falling, it may very well be part of their grieving process if it is not properly addressed by the parents in the early stages. Adults may become workaholics in an effort to escape what they are going through, and if they lose that job they may wind up depressed.”
He advised not to be too ‘pushy’ when coming to offer people help in their times of grief. “Don’t preach a sermon on someone’s perceived sinful nature when they just want you to pray for them or offer counsel. Sometimes you can minister to people by just meeting their immediate needs, for example, offering them a cup of tea, a meal, or helping them clean the house. Sitting quietly with the person who has experienced loss can also be a tremendous help to them.”
Beyond that, “we should not ignore people’s feelings because certain things we may see as trivial mean a lot to some people, such as pets. For some, pets are companions as valuable as children, so you must be compassionate. Also, if the person who has died is well advanced in age [80s or 90s] don’t belittle it by saying “at least they lived a full life”, because you do not know how close the grieving person was to the one who has died. You should also avoid telling people, especially if some time has passed since the loss occurred, to “get over it”, and do not act as if nothing has happened. If they do not want to go to the funeral, do not force them to do so.”
Dr St Amour reiterated the five stages of grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and offered counsel for those who may be going through the process as well. Listing depression as the most dangerous of the five phases as it could lead to health problems and even suicide if not properly addressed, the therapist stated, “Do not stay in denial – loss precipitates a feeling of anxiety or vulnerability, which may lead to crisis. Suicide comes about when people feel overwhelmed and their traditional coping methods are for whatever reason unavailable or ineffective or when they do not see any way out of their crisis situation”.
He stated people often question God during times of crisis. “We tend to ask, “Why me?” or “Why now?” Some question their religious beliefs, the meaning of life, what happens after death, and develop a sense of despair about the future. The Bible tells us that beyond this life God has a better place for us, but it is hard to accept that reality when He calls a loved one home.”
The counsellor advocated certain measures a grieving person can take to alleviate some of their pain. “Join support groups, start a journal to document your feelings, make sure you eat properly, exercise and get adequate rest. You can also visit the gravesite regularly to seek solace, and avoid making major changes in your life at this time. Remember that grief does not last forever, and try to look for blessings in the process. We can sometimes gain from our losses, because only God can tell the future and the main thing or person that we lose might have created some challenges for us later on in life,” he concluded.