[MOL] Why helping the Bereaved is so difficult.... [02320] Medicine On Line

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[MOL] Why helping the Bereaved is so difficult....

Why Helping the Bereaved is So Difficult

As a society, we never teach our children how to respond to or comfort those who are grieving.  There are many reasons this is a difficult task.  The Grief Recovery Handbook from the Grief Recovery Institute states that the reason why we have difficulty knowing what to do and say is because:

We Are Afraid of Our Feelings

Reasons Why Helping the Bereaved is Difficult

In our society, children receive a message very early on on how to suppress our feelings.  Statements like "Don't be a crybaby." or "Big girls and boys don't cry."  send this message. Even as adults, we hear comments to tell us not to be emotional.   Other myths that we have been told about expressing our emotions to the bereaved include:

  • Don't cry, you will only upset the bereaved.
  • What do you have to cry about, it wasn't your (mother, brother, father, sister)

When I was working in a geriatric unit many years ago, a patient that I was very fond of died during the night shift.  When I heard about it in the morning report, I had to find some time to myself to cry about the loss of a favorite patient.  An older nurse told me that to cry about a patient was unprofessional.  For many years I believed that but I have seen a softening in medical personnel during a death.  I have seen nurses and doctors cry about a patient's death. 

The Grief Recovery Institute has a web article On Crying to help you look at the expression of your feelings in a more positive light.

Other reasons why helping the bereaved is difficult:

We Try to Intellectualize Death

Reasons Why We Don't Know What to Say to the Bereaved

As a society we place a great amount of importance on our intellect.  However, it is important to remember we are also emotional beings.  It was a common belief in Victorian England that anyone who showed emotion in public was not intelligent.  When we intellectualize we do not allow the bereaved to express their emotions.  According the The Grief Institute, common statements that reflect intellectualize include:

"You still have another child."
"God never gives us more than he knows we can handle."
"He/she had a full life."
"At least he/she is no longer in pain."

These are common statements we may have learned from our family.  We may have even thought they were appropriate but they do not allow the bereaved to express their feelings  and give them the sense of shame over their grief.

Other reasons why helping the bereaved is difficult:

We Don't Like Talking About Death

Reasons Why We Don't Know What to Say to the Bereaved

Death is such a MORBID subject, why should we talk about it.  This was a common mind-set of my Irish grandmother.  Think of all the names we have given death:   passed on, departed, eternal rest, expired, and lost.  The worst thing we can say to a child is that "Grandpa has gone to sleep."  It leaves many with a sense of dread over sleep.  Funeral.org states that if we talk to our loved ones about our death it often brings us closer.

We Think the Solution to Grief is to Keep Busy

Reasons Why We Don't Know What to Say to the Bereaved

It is a common misconception that keeping the bereaved busy will help them heal from their grief.  However, keeping busy just allows the bereaved to avoid the issue and postpones the grief reaction. 

A friend of mine had a miscarriage that upset her parents and husband deeply.   The day after the miscarriage she decided she wanted to return to college to get a second degree.  By keeping busy she never thought about the child she lost.  Years later when her father-in-law died she could not understand why she could not stop crying.   After counseling she realized that she was also grieving the loss of her baby years ago.

Complicated grief can come from not allowing the bereaved to grieve completely.  When we lose ourselves in work, volunteer activities, or in other family members we neglect to express our grief.

Other reasons why helping the bereaved is difficult:


We Want the Bereaved to Keep Their Faith

Reasons Why We Don't Know What to Say to the Bereaved

It can be a common reaction for the bereaved to be angry at God or their faith after the death of a loved one.  This is often disturbing for faithful and the clergy.   Anger is a common and basic reaction to our grief.  Our anger should not burden the  bereaved with guilt.  This anger usually passes, if the bereaved are allowed to express their feelings without judgment.  If individuals are not allowed to express their anger it may damage their faith in the future



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