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Grief and Bereavement

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On this page (click on the link below to jump to section)


  4 Stages of Grieving   Grief is the normal process of reacting to a loss
Modern North American Models of Death   Bereavement is the period after a loss during which grief is experienced and mourning occurs (and is usually after a death)
Healthy Grieving and
What Journeying Beyond Can Offer
    Mourning is the actual process by which people adapt to a loss and express it (which may be governed by a culture's tradition)

There are several models of the stages of grief.    One is by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross — and her stages (in order) are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.   There are other models — including more stages; and incorporating shock and disbelief, guilt, and reflection.   However, the actual grieving can be divided into 4 general stages.

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4 Stages of Grieving

  1. Anticipatory grief — facing a death or critical loss (of self or other — and usually includes at least Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' 5 stages)
2. Immediate/shock grief — at the moment of death; which may include numbness, denial, or an unexpected sense of calm [Note: a sense of shock can take over even if the death was expected, as there is a sudden shift from 'anticipated' to 'real'.]
3. Disorganizational, complicated or
delayed grief
— in the first couple of weeks or months (although if unresolved, may last years); which may include anger, questions re 'why', depression, fatigue or over-busyness, but generally indicates that one's life has become disorganized due to the loss — or one might overly-organize it to avoid thinking about the death, and/or to maintain denial
4. Transformational grief — long-term, where the sense of loss continues; but one gradually rebuilds a sense of their world without their dead loved one or building a new relationship/meaning of the relationship, a sense of acceptance of the death, and hope for one's own continued life

All of these stages are normal, and need to be processed through in order to grieve in a healthy way, maintain a positive memory of the deceased, and rebuild one's own world without them. [Note: a simple and humourous approach to grief Ask a Moritican — Grief Talk.   See also The Mourner's Bill of Rights. and CINDEA 's ResourcesMedia section on Bereavement.]

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Modern North American Models of Death

North American culture doesn't really have any grief/mourning rites, unless one's family has brought them from another culture.   And especially as cremation becomes more popular (see Wikipedia article on statistics), what rituals we did have are being eroded.   Most North Americans expect the body to be removed from the home/hospital/hospice within the first hour or two after death.    Visitation of the body, at a funeral home, can cost more than $200.   Open-casket funerals, and even graveside burial rites, have become less common.   As a result, the family and friends may not have any opportunity to say 'good-bye' to their loved one 'in the flesh' (i.e. as they remember them).   Memorial services now tend to be called 'celebrations of life': while story-telling and humour are valid parts of honouring a life that has passed, they may not offer much opportunity for true grieving.

  Our modern culture is doing away with important grief rituals-one by one.   Funerals and memorials have helped the bereaved over the centuries to start healthy, healing grief.   But families today who want to avoid the messy pain and turmoil of grief and who think of rituals that facilitate mourning as a waste of time are opting for ceremonies stripped of all uncomfortable rituals from the past or for no services at all.  
Grief rituals serve two important purposes.   First, these ceremonies give mourners the opportunity to accept the death and to say goodbye publicly with the support of family and friends.   Second, these traditional grief ceremonies produce a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual atmosphere that facilitates the start of the grief process in healthy ways.  
Eliminating these important rituals can create situations where individuals and families can develop habits that suppress or complicate the grief emotions they need to acknowledge and express.   At best this will cause the grief process to be slowed, at worst mourners' may become "stuck" in their complicated grief having potential risks negatively affect their life performance, relationships, careers and overall well-being.
What should be considered in a grieving ritual or ceremony of remembrance?   Do what best fits your needs to express your personal grief experience.   
(from "Giving Up Grief Rituals Dangerous Trend", includes a long list of 'grievers' right' from "Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise" by Larry M. Barber)

Another result of modern practices is that families and friends may not have the opportunity to deeply grieve together.   As a consequence, they may feel awkward sharing their grieving process — not wanting to trigger another family member's grief; or feeling that their grief is wholly unique, when it may not be.    They may end up feeling isolated in their bereavement — not only from friends, but other family members.   This often leads to depression and/or an unresolved stage 3 (above), to the point where professional help is required to rebuild their lives.   [Note: we tend to speak of 'returning to normal' there is no such thing for a major loss; so what we are seeking are ways of transforming our lives: Thomas Attig's book "How We Grieve: Relearning the World" is particularly helpful.]

Having support to grieve throughout the pan-death process can avoid the worst parts of stage 3, release the immediate depth of mourning, and allow for a healthy transformation.   Grief rites can be held before, during and after the death, but are usually most meaningful within the funeral and memorial services.   [Note: when both a funeral and memorial or wake are chosen, the funeral is usually an intimate ceremony, including family and closest friends; the memorial or wake is usually open to the public or an extended list of guests.]   The spreading of ashes (if cremation is chosen) is also a critical time to express grief in a evocative and expressive ceremony.   The first anniversary of the death is usually a very difficult time, when the initial depth of grief may rise to the surface again: therefore, it can be very helpful to plan a ceremony a year after the death.    The practitioner of death midwifery — whether the original Funeral Celebrant or not — will know what the funeral and/or memorial ceremony was, and be able to help the family explore a ceremony that is consistent with it, while addressing the reality of the year gone by.

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Grieving and what Journeying Beyond can offer

Anticipatory Grief — The fact that a Practitioner of Death Midwifery begins working with the Death Journeyer and their family/friends before the active dying stage means that they can support them as they process through the pain of anticipatory grief when and as it happens.    They also help arrange visitation and facilitate what is said — i.e. interrupt statements that only cause unnecessary pain [Note: First Memorial Funeral Home has a great page on Funeral Etiquette - particularly see "WHAT NOT TO SAY, WHAT NOT TO DO" and "INAPPROPRIATE COMMENTS".]    The whole family might choose to have a 'celebration of life' before the death, so that the Death Journeyer can be present and know that their life is honoured.    The Pan-death Guide might also advocate for the Death Journeyer/family in accessing hospice or other anticipatory grief services.

Immediate/Shock Grief — Other cultures and ancient traditions saw the washing and dressing of the body as the final offer of love and respect.   Despite the taboo that has developed in our culture about handling dead bodies, most people who have done it find that it deepens the process of their grieving — feeling that they have done the last/best they could for their loved one, and avoiding the guilt of feeling that they might not have.   And at the simplest level, it gives the family and/or close friends something to do (and to do together) until the shock wears off; and before more practical things (like legal paperwork, obituary, or finalizing the funeral) need to be done.   At-home post-death care also allows the family/friends to personalize the care of the body; and in doing so, deeply touch the meaning of the personalization within their own grief — both individual and shared.   The Pan-death Guide would help them explore what post-death care they wish to do, and the personal supplies that would need to be collected before the death; and then guide them in caring for the body in the safest and most respectful way (whatever that means to them or the Death Journeyer and/or their traditions).

Disorganizational, complicated or delayed grief — One would hope that if meaningful traditions (old or new) are followed, this stage would be relatively short.   However, remembering that this stage is normal, the pan-death guide can help the family get through the immediate tasks to be done (legal paperwork, obituary, or funeral/memorial); and then check in regularly with those closest to the Death Journeyer for a couple of months and support their grieving process — in part to advocate for them, if they need to access professional grief counsellor services.

Transformational grief — Transforming one's life to the absence of a loved one is very personal: everyone will do it differently, and take a different amount of time.   The Pan-death Guide can help the family decide what to do with the ashes, and develop a ceremony to do so — whether dividing them between significant family and friends, and/or jointly spreading them in a significant place.   Having developed a relationship with the family and closest friends during the pan-death process, they also have some idea of what would be meaningful in a 'first anniversary' of the death ceremony; and help the family develop one that
  a) acknowledges the absence of their loved one (many people worry that in our busy world they will end up forgetting their loved one, and so hold on to persistent memories longer than is healthy); and
b) sharing both the remaining grief AND how each person's life has been transformed — often in ways that are directly connected to their dead loved one, and totally unexpected!

Please also see Journeying Beyond 's pages on Death Midwifery and Funeral Celebrant.

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