Learning to live again in the face of loss "So what happens when it"s not such a jolly holiday, when you"re grieving for loved ones who died?"
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth E. Reed isn"t begging the question. He"s helping us find an answer in the form of a 14-part process with particular attention to helping children grieve and helping adults deal with the death of a parent. "Healing Through Grieving: Learning to Live Again" is a self-sustained process growing from Reed"s own life and work as a chaplain, psychologist, pastoral counselor, pastoral educator and widower. In addition, he has mourned the death of parents, in-laws, a brother, colleagues and friends. Taking the form of a series of eight-page pamphlets in a binder, the content, context and design of the publication recognize that the person in grief has a limited attention span and needs affirmation (not advice or bucking up). A "Grief Checklist" with each "installment" gives permission to acknowledge a range of 60 emotions and actions including anger, anxiety, feeling sorry for oneself, vulnerability and working more than usual. "Because of my years of personal and professional experiences, I have found that grief is the most undiagnosed problem in our society," he states. "Our society finds death, dying, grief hard to deal with. We don"t acknowledge the power of the grieving process. We don"t create an environment for time to grieve. Society thinks we should get over grief in a few months when, in reality, it takes one to three years." Life is a symphony People tend to hide their grief, withdraw, put on a happy face while relentlessly hurting on the inside. Helping family and friends in the wake of a death is not one of the social skills taught in our society. Reed relates an incident of a well-wisher saying, "You have so many grandchildren," to a woman at her grandchild"s funeral. Total insensitivity, Reed states, to assume that because one has many grandchildren the death of one should not be openly mourned. Advice from well-meaning people can be harmful and painful, he says. "People feel alone in grieving without support. This often leads to fear, regrets, anger, "I should have" ... thoughts." Grief isolation "leaves unresolved issues wrapped up in tight boxes," Reed explains. "Life is a symphony in the process of being written. When one person dies, that section can"t be finished. There"s a lot of unfinished business a person is trying to deal with on his or her own." "Healing Through Grieving" is not a substitute for professional counseling, Reed explains. "Complicated grief" and depression require medical care. This grief healing program was developed to help a person through the time of mourning and learning to live again without the physical presence of a loved one. It acknowledges that "the overwhelming impact of your loved one"s death affects you physically, emotionally and spiritually." While not a how-to process for dealing with the economics and legal issues of a death, it helps the person battling bureaucracy separate these distinct aspects of bewilderment. No matter how prepared a person is, the harshness of filing papers, signing certificates and making sudden decisions plays into the immediate onset of denial. "Numbness and disbelief protects you" as you go through the necessary steps of funeral, burial, fulfilling legal requirements to register death and deal with wills, probate, deciding on what to keep, what to clear away of the physical traces of the lost partner, parent, sibling, child, friend or colleague. A colleague shared with Reed that the intensity of his grief was much greater on the first anniversary of the loss of his daughter than at the actual time of her death. When the shock wears off, "We can begin to tell the story of our loss. We must tell the story slowly and carefully many times in all the detail that is possible. We can"t heal until we share our story," Reed states. He relates how he consciously made the decision to be honest and forthright whenever someone inquired how he was doing after the death of his wife. "I decided I would not say "fine" and walk on. I decided I would describe the depth and breadth of my pain. I may have made some people late to where they were going; made some uncomfortable." Reed"s point was two-fold: to help himself heal, to help the person who asked learn that if you don"t really care, don"t ask. And when you ask, be prepared to listen for as long as it takes the mourner to tell his or her story at that moment, and to just listen, not be judgmental or offer advice. "Mourning is never the same for any two people," Reed acknowledges. But, there are overarching patterns in engaging in the process of grieving, and it is through these broad topics that Reed"s program touches all the bases to help us become whole after being "torn asunder" and "until death do us part." "We"re social beings, we have no being without relationships," he explains. "We are dependent on relationships, death changes our identity. We become a reality through relationships. The person is gone but still a memory. Memory is important. It is the theme running through the 14 installments." "Moving On" is the title of the sixth installment. We read the story of a man whose unresolved issues kept him from committing to new love. We ponder quotations: From Morrie Schwartz, in Tuesdays with Morrie, "Death ends a life, not a relationship." From Dr. Murray Bowen, family therapist, "Grief is the unfinished portion of a relationship." We consider doing things "to complete the unfinished portion of a relationship, namely: Review the relationship to assess the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the pain and the pleasure, and what it meant to each of you, and decide what needs to be forgiven and forgive yourself and your loved one." Developing a new identity Forgiving may well be the hardest part of mourning, but "only then will we be able to find peace and acceptance of the way things were. Only then are we able to begin developing a new identity and building a new future," Reed states in this pamphlet. "It will take much effort over several months to do this. Others have done it. You can do it." Addressing "a gradual reawakening," Reed reviews Toby Talbot"s memoir, A Book About My Mother, and her process of letting go. "Once you begin the work of reinvesting your energy in developing a new life, you will begin to feel more alive and will discover a greater appreciation for your loved one," Reed writes. "Moving on does not mean forgetting all your loved one meant to you." On a page of "Care Tips for Family and Friends," an unknown author is quoted: "When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice, you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn"t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me, strange as it may seem. Listen! All I asked was that you listen, not talk or do - just hear me." Nicholas, age 7, wrote this four months after his grandma"s death: "... my grandma died in 1998. But I am glad that she still loves me. But it"s still a little hard to get over it." "Children express their grief in a variety of ways, as do adults," Reed says. "Be sensitive, let them know it is all right to be sad and show their emotions; give them affection and be supportive." "Healing Through Grieving" is unpretentious. It"s as valuable to read before experiencing loss as after. It"s comforting for the holiday season, when emotions of loss run high. "Healing Through Grieving: Learning to Live Again" can be made available through pastoral counseling at hospitals, houses of worship, funeral homes; it can be utilized on one"s own through libraries or self-purchase from book stores or direct order. For more information or to order a copy call 255-5504 or write Grief Healing, Inc., P.O. Box 781643, Indianapolis, IN 46278-8643.