Why don’t we understand grief? Why isn’t it easy to just admit we’re grieving and help each other? Today we often don’t recognize it for what it is – even when the signs are obvious. So we find ourselves having to study our way back into one of the most painful, unavoidable human experiences of all.
We often don’t recognize grief
Someone may be so sad it seems it has overpowered their whole personality. A friend may irritate us by barking for no reason. A go-getter now seems dull and unmotivated. A person who is really clear-minded wanders in and out of their thoughts. Sometimes 6 months or a year after a major loss, we wonder what happened to our friendship.
We don’t recognize that grief brings us to our knees or that we are living in a vastly altered world. Because we don’t NAME IT as grief, we create reasons why people have changed. Someone who seems depressed is likely to be given anti-depressants. A co-worker having trouble keeping up may be replaced without any accommodations. Without understanding the upheaval of their world, we may label them as weak, selfish, oversensitive, incompetent, stuck, unpleasant, or refusing to let go. It’s a tragedy, because the one factor that allows us to move through shattering times is the support of others. No wonder so many grieving people feel ashamed and isolated.
The Professional Realm
Education about grief is even more important for helping professionals. When people go to physicians, clinicians, therapists or spiritual advisors, they are often in distress and grieving changes or fears in their lives. Business management often sees only the impact of grief on performance in the short run. Business advisors could help clients make better decisions if they understood how loss has affected them.
It’s more complicated for professionals in a sense. They are rightfully tasked with ‘doing something’ – fixing, curing, making something work, or making it better. Grief support is more about ‘being’, witnessing, letting someone know they’re normal even when they’re not OK. It can be hard for professionals to balance those two skill sets. Sometimes they inadvertently abandon a bereaved person because or the need to ‘make it better.’
When we are broken
We all need to learn how to recognize and respect that when grief impacts one person, it influences many people. All too often, that education arrives only when we are devastated and skinless in the middle of a loss of our own. All too often, that’s the way we learn compassion.
People say that once they have been broken by grief, they regret times they were flippant or dismissive of people going through the same thing. As one person put it, “Once you have lived with a broken heart, the world gets divided into the people who understand, and the people who don’t.”
It may be that one of our deepest responsibilities is to strive to understand what it means to be fully human. We will all grieve many things over our lifetimes. We will need each other’s strength and compassion. Over 26 years I’ve facilitated grief groups, done individual counseling, and taught professional trainings in grief. I’ve worked with families, corporations, for mental health professionals, faith communities and schools. I’ve witnessed the many different ways we learn and change. I’ve seen how grateful, relieved and empowered we can become with such an uncomfortable topic. I encourage everyone to pursue some form of intentional grief study. But please don’t think of it as an academic study; think of it as learning how to offer the gift of your humanity.
Kim Mooney’s workshops, presentations and consultations take the fear out of approaching the subject of death, so we can relate to the idea of grief and dying with forethought, deliberation and advocacy. Schedule a professional consultation with Kim for your organization, and stay tuned for more information about her soon-to-be launching Desktop Lunch & Learn for professionals.