Grief is an emotion that most people have experienced at some time or other in their lives. It is not something that everyone speaks about easily, because grieving is a private and personal affair.
Learning to cope with the loss of a loved one is not easy. There are not many books to teach you how to cope with grief. Age, maturity and cultural beliefs don’t help much either because grieving depends on a number of things, such as one’s relationship with a lost loved one, one’s personality and the support structures available.
I have counselled several patients, including children, after the death of a loved one and I have had to apply different approaches because each one has a unique relationship with those who have died.
The worst was having to counsel a young mother (and her little son), after her husband ended his life in front of her without giving her a reason for his action. To add to her trauma, her husband’s family accused her of causing his death.
Death, natural or otherwise, can bring out the best and the worst in people.
Anger is one of the most common emotions expressed by family members when they lose a loved one and, quite often, it is directed at the doctors or other family members for not doing enough. This, even after they have done everything in their power to care for that person.
Fortunately, people who misdirect their anger towards doctors are few. The majority are usually quite appreciative of the efforts of medical staff and caregivers.
Doctors must be taught — something I have learned the hard way — never to take to heart the anger of grieving families. Grief can make people so irrational that they will blurt out the ugliest things that come to mind — this is part of the grieving process.
I recently treated a wonderful man in his 30s, who was rushed into my rooms complaining of chest pain, looking helpless and weak, as if he were about to have a major heart attack.
Much to his relief — and that of his young, worried wife — the pain in his chest was muscular and was a result of his anxiety and panic disorder.
On questioning him about what was causing such stress, he broke down, crying uncontrollably.
He told me how much he missed his mother, who had died a year ago.
He is a religious leader and people expected so much from him that they failed to consider that he, too, has issues to deal with.
Whenever he went through tough times, he always shared them with his mother, who listened and gave advice to comfort him, like only a mother could. Without her, he felt quite lost and alone.
He did not want to burden his wife and did not enjoy a good enough relationship with other family members to share his intimate pain with them. He said he felt that he had not given enough time to grieving over the loss of his mother.
I realised that he hadn’t spoken to anyone openly about the pain of his loss and what that loss had meant to him.
I gave him the time to compose himself and to share with me his deep-seated sadness and the disappointments in his life.
As time went by, I managed to help him see the need to come to terms with his loss and accept the reality of the situation.
To accept does not mean that one does not care or that one has forgotten. We rarely ever forget our near and dear ones because of our treasure box of memories, which can be recalled whenever we sit back and reflect on our times with them.
We cannot wish for deceased loved ones to return to us, so pining for their return will either make us severely depressed or insane.
One accepts the loss of a loved one to keep the focus on the living, who depend on you.
There is no rule to tell us how one should grieve or for how long. We each have our own ways of dealing with our grief, but we must not allow our grief to consume us to the extent that it destroys us.
Yet not everyone can come to terms with their loss on their own, so it is essential for them to seek professional help.
If anyone reading this article is struggling to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, I would urge you to seek the help of a professional or join a support group. Don’t allow yourself to go down, wilting away slowly, as if you have nothing to live for.
Speak about your grief instead of drinking or drugging yourself out of it.
There is help out there; don’t be shy to seek it. Seeking help, on an issue as sensitive as coping with grief, is certainly not a sign of weakness but a sign of being sensible and responsible.
To accept the loss of a loved one is essential, especially if one has young children.
Dr Ellapen Rapiti is a family physician, specialising in child and mental health and addiction counselling