Sometimes family members will comment, "He's still crying off and on since his wife died last month" and follow up with, "Can you prescribe something for him?"
Wherever there exists a relationship of love and care, so there will be grief with the loss of that relationship. Grief is a normal response of intense sadness and emotional suffering in response to a loss, whether it be of a person, pet, type of lifestyle, relationship, or sentimental memento.
[We can even grieve anticipated loss; read Post 35 - Grieving Loss (and Change) That is About to Come - Six Coping Suggestions.]
Though grief may be universal, the way grief presents itself varies. Grief may present with anger, sadness, regret, relief, guilt, disbelief, or numbness. "I don't believe he's gone. He promised me! He promised me I would never have to learn how to use the coffeemaker! He promised me he would always be the one to make our coffee." All of these emotions are normal, and these emotions may be more fierce and overwhelming the more significant the relationship that is now gone. How we express our grief, or mourn, may vary according to culture, tradition, personality, and personal relationships.
Family members witnessing a loved one sobbing or tearing up may feel helpless. They may feel a need to find any means to relieve their loved one's emotional pain as quickly as possible. Because grief is a normal human response to significant loss - and not a pathological response (that is, it is not a disease) - there is no medication for grief. Often the best a family member can do is be present and supportive, allowing their loved one to express their grief in a way most helpful to them.
According to Dr. Kenneth Doka's Grief is a Journey, the two primary types of grievers are instrumental (or "head") grievers and intuitive (or "heart") grievers. Many are a combination of both.
Intuitive grievers are those who express their grief primarily through expressions of emotions. They may find helpful talking about their emotions to process their grief. They could
· talk to a close friend or family member
· talk to a clergy member
· speak with a grief counselor
· join a bereavement support group, where people can share their feelings with others who are also experiencing what they are experiencing (bereavement is the period of mourning immediately after the death of a loved one).
[For those looking for suggestions on talking about grief with young children, I suggest children's picture books that talk about grief and grieving in Post 76: 10 Children's Books That May Help You Talk about Dying, Death, and Grief.]
Instrumental grievers are those who express their grief primarily through taking actions that memorialize their loved one. "Sitting around and talking" may not feel helpful to them. Examples of memorializing actions include
· establishing a scholarship in honor of their loved one
· continuing their loved one's work, such as volunteering at the food bank where their loved one had regularly contributed time and donations
· contributing to their loved one's favorite charity
· establishing a memorial bench in their loved one's favorite park
· cooking their loved one's favorite foods for family gatherings
Mourning takes emotional work. Family and friends who survive a loss have to find a way to adjust to the loss and adapt to a "new normal" in which they are living their day to day lives without their loved one. The rest of the world moves on as if this life-altering loss never happened - utility bills have to be paid and groceries need to be put away. It takes work to find new meaning in a new future.
Though a person may eventually adjust to their new reality, it is normal for grief to reappear weeks, months, or even years later, triggered by a conversation, a picture, or a holiday. It is normal for grief to come in waves at any time in life. Grief in its various forms, including crying, is a normal part of loss and a normal part of being human.