Journeying Through Grief
Story by V. Michelle Bernard / Feature photo by alexisnyal
Journeying Through Grief
Most people know that grief is a process, says Ann Roda, vice president of Mission Integration and Spiritual Care at Adventist HealthCare. “Here is the thing. Grief is not something you experience and move on. Grief changes people. Below Roda shares the three aspects of grief and offers some tips to help yourself and others in the process.
Feeling the Grief
A lot of times people try to avoid the pain of loss, says Roda (pictured below). They’ll do things to try to avoid the hurt, won’t cry or hyperventilate. But, people need to work through the pain, she adds.
Those grieving must adjust to the changes in their environment because the loved one isn’t there. “This is a huge adjustment that needs to be talked about and strategically planned,” says Roda. “A lot of times we think about grieving from an emotional sense, but forget the day-to-day practical things that fill time.”
Roda shared examples of parents that continued to clean a deceased child’s bedroom and wives that would still call out to husbands who passed away. This is also a tangible aspect of grief.
Relocating the Loss, Moving On
Sometimes the emotions take the lead, and sometimes the physical actions take the lead in the grief process, says Roda. “Sometimes there is a hesitancy to move on. People interpret [moving on] as forgetting their loved one.”
She adds that for a parent, the grief will never leave. You don’t stop grieving, you just relocate it emotionally and physically. “When you get to the point in which you are able to physically relocate, for example give away all a child’s toys and clothes, the emotional loss and grief will still be there, [but] you’ve relocated it now.”
People need to understand the grief and understand it is a lifelong process, says Roda. “You will never get over this, but you need to relocate your emotions and actions,” and learn how to live with it.
She shared the example of how her 5’1’’ stature will be with her the rest of her life; how it determines the shoes and clothes she’ll wear. “I’ve learned how to pick the right clothes and shoes for my height; it is the same principles with grief.”
Roda recommends that the grieving get support “with a counselor or support group or family members who understand.” It is ok to say, “I have to talk about this … or ask, can I talk about this? ... When we hold it in, we as individuals really don’t have the skills in us to deal with grief. I think grief has to be a community journey.”
Roda says it is important to find a group with a shared experience; not all communities are. For example, some well-meaning Bible study groups who haven’t experienced the loss of a death of a child might think someone needs to “just get over it.” A parents’ group will understand, she adds.
Helping Others Through Grief
Don’t be afraid to bring up the death with parents, says Roda. “It could be something as simple as “How are you really doing?” or “How is the journey?”
She also says it is important to let people know you’re thinking about them and tell them how the loss impacted you too. This opens the door for parents to talk and is acknowledging their journey and “that you’re still with them.”
She also says simply allowing the parents to express their feelings can be helpful. “Don’t be judgmental, allow them to cry and process.”
Roda says it is important to remember special days, for example the birth of a child, acknowledge anniversaries, or even ask the parents, depending on your relationship with them, if you can accompany them when they visit the grave.
“As the parent is going through grief, through a lifetime, friends and family need to take that journey with them,” she says.
Roda recommends this resource from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.