Grieving Loss or Celebrating Life

There are several factors that can impact the experience of grief.

As a psychologist, I have had many occasions to help people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, and of casketcourse like everyone else, I have had to deal with my own grief at times. I have learned a few “truths” about grief that I may be helpful.

First, I never try to help someone stop grieving. Grief is a healthy response to the experience of loss. In fact, grief is essential when dealing with the major losses of life. I tell people that trying to avoid, block or stuff grief is unhealthy. I warn them that the feelings will just come out later, in a less healthy form, like depression, anxiety or anger. I use the analogy that grief is a bit like plumbing. It works best if it’s not stopped up.

Second, there are two types of grief, simple and complicated. In simple grief, the person experiences a loss and grieves. The grief is normal and healthy, as noted above. In complicated grief, the loss is complicated in some way. It may be that the person had a negative or love-hate relationship with the deceased person. Feelings of loss accompanied by anger toward the deceased can definitely complicate the grief process. It may be that the grieving person feels there was some unfinished business that now can never be resolved. It can also be that the survivor somehow blames himself for the death of the loved one. In any case, these complicated feelings can complicate the grief process.

Simple grief gradually gets better over time, but the amount of time varies tremendously from person to person, with no proper time period. In simple grief, there are up-and-down days, but there is a gradual improvement. Complicated grief doesn’t improve over time, and sometimes even gets worse. Complicated grief has a greater tendency to lead to depression or anxiety symptoms. If your grief doesn’t seem to be improving, or seems to be getting worse, you may want to talk to a professional about it.

Finally, one’s reaction to grief is sometimes impacted by where the person focuses attention. Many times, we tend to focus our attention on the death or the experience of watching the illness progress to the point of death. We visualize the hospital scene or the dying moment. It is possible to think so much about the death, that we don’t think about the life. The visual images of our loved one in the hospital or dying can fill our minds. We can repeatedly experience those moments. In doing so, we can lose touch with the precious moments of the person’s life. We may have lived with the person for thirty years, and experienced their dying for three months, but tend to think about the three months to the exclusion of the thirty years.

So, it is healthy to let yourself grieve. If your grief is complicated by other factors, talk with someone to work that out. And finally, deliberately focus your memories on the life rather than the death. Be deliberate and persistent in the effort.

COMMENT: Please share your insights regarding healthy vs. unhealthy grief reactions.

Remembering Veterans At Christmas

Hope you enjoy this touching video, and remember to thank a veteran this Christmas.

This you tube video has been around for a while, but the message is meaningful. I hope you enjoy it and remember to say a prayer for those who are in harms way, so we can celebrate a peaceful Christmas.Soldiers_Silent_Night

You’ll Get Used To It

We need to be aware of the negative impact of desensitization.

In psychology, desensitization is defined as decreased emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulusviolence after repeated exposure to it. In other words, we become less sensitive to anything that we experience a lot. You can get used to just about anything.

Sometimes this is a good thing. The emergency room nurse becomes less sensitive to the gore of wound care so that she can do her job. The diabetic gets used to the daily insulin injections and states that they don’t hurt as much anymore.

Desensitization is a commonly used technique in psychology. When a patient comes in with a debilitating fear of something (a phobia), we use desensitization to help them get over it. We get them to expose themselves to small doses of the thing, while helping them relax. We gradually increase the intensity of the exposure. The more they are exposed, the less anxiety they experience. After a while, they lose the fear.

The technique works quite well. I’ve used it many times to help people deal with fears of spiders, snakes, flying, crowds, heights, etc. Of course, most folks don’t sign-up for such treatment unless the fear is impairing their lives. Examples would include the individual, with a fear of flying, but a business that requires such travel, or the person who develops a fear of driving after an auto accident.

Sometimes, however, desensitization is a bad thing. Sometimes, we get used to things we should not get used to. We see so much more violence in movies and television than we did in earlier years. For those who are a little older, think about the difference between the violent scenes on Gunsmoke versus those of CSI. We pay money to see graphic violence that would have turned our stomachs in past years. In fact, our desensitization actually forces Hollywood to increase the graphic violence to get our attention.

The same principle holds true for sexual content. We get accustomed to seeing things on TV that we would have never imagined a few years ago. You might remember that Lucy and Ricky had to sleep on twin beds, even though they were married in real life and on the “I Love Lucy” show, because sleeping in the same bed was deemed “too suggestive.”

My biggest concern, however, is what we see in real life. Are we becoming desensitized to the violence in our world? Do we already pay less attention when we hear about a murder or an abused child? Do such stories hurt us less? Do we just feel relief that it didn’t happen to our family or in our neighborhood?

And, how many terrorist acts will it take before we begin to see them as commonplace, as well? Will we get to the point where a bombing or a mass shooting barely warrants a dinner discussion? It has happened before in other places. There are just some things that we should never get used to.