This week I have been busy facilitating a two day suicide intervention course (ASIST) at Holsworthy Army Base. This is a great course, but I find that it is also emotionally draining, particularly when I am confronted with a range of “grief issues” in the days following. Yet it is also a great reminder that many people are struggling to come to terms with grief and loss, whether it be death of a partner, child, parent or grandparent or other losses such as breakdown of a relationship, loss of health, loss of identity or loss of financial stability to name a few. There are many causes of grief, and every new grief seems to force us to revisit earlier ones which we thought we were finished with!
This sometimes surprises me, particularly when a fairly minor loss elicits a major response, but the thing to remember is that grief is rarely logical! Grief has many faces and affects us as whole people, attacking the body, the mind and the spirit. The result is we are left oscillating between feeling hopeless and helpless, angry and sad, or just disorientated and totally confused. The unpredictability of these reactions and the severity of them make them difficult to deal with but not impossible. The other thing about grief is that it usually hits us when we least expect it and therefore we are not prepared, although it is one of those things that WILL touch ALL of us.
So, what specifically CAN happen? The ADF Mental Health Strategy booklet on grief mentions the following physical reactions: crying, breathlessness, nausea, agitation, restlessness, stomach pains, headaches, low energy and poor sleep. In terms of emotional and behavioural reactions the booklet lists: poor concentration, fear, panic, depression, guilt, anger, sadness, withdrawal from family and friends. For many there is a sense of hopelessness and frustration with others around them that just don’t understand their loss. In spiritual terms there is often a crisis of faith, with such questions as “why did God let this happen?” or “why didn’t God answer my prayers?”
If some or all of that is happening, what can you do about it? Allow yourself time to grieve, be patient, this will pass but no-one can tell you how long it will take. Recognise that the feelings you are struggling through are part of the healing process and if you try to speed-up the process or short circuit it the grief will remain! It is important that you talk about your feelings, so find someone you trust who will listen non-judgmentally and support you through this time. Look for opportunities to get together with others who share that same grief, and share the rituals together, because that is what funerals and memorial services are designed for. I usually encourage people to journal those feelings as well and record memories of the highs and lows, the things that were missed in the official eulogies maybe.
Just a few final thoughts, beware of making any big decisions while in the middle of the grief process, and avoid using alcohol to deaden the pain of your loss, it will only make it worse. No matter how you feel, God does care and he has promised to walk with you through those dark times, he will bring you safely through this and help you to cope IF you ask him. If you need help with your grief, why not have a chat with the Chaplain, medical or psychologist because it is complex and this only just scratches the surface.
Padre Ian Whitley AM