Wednesday, October 06, 2010

On loss...

I am big on genealogy. Not for finding any vainglorious relationship to some person of royal descent but for understanding my ancestors and their families. Consequently my searches aren't limited to direct descendants but include those families of siblings and their descendants. One thing I've noticed is that every family has experienced loss. Loss of parents and/or children, death. Loss of everything.

My family, too, has experienced loss. My first wife had a miscarriage. My brother was killed, struck by a pickup truck. My grandmother had a miscarriage. My aunt lost her first child. Of course all our parents have died, we are now the oldest living people in our immediate family.

We have lost friends, too. Close friends. Death by suicide, by disease, even in war. Loss is one of the sureties of life. It touches us all.

When confronted with loss we respond with grief but each of us acts differently. The Kubler-Ross stages of grief are:

1. Denial – "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me." Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of positions and individuals that will be left behind after death.

2. Anger – "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; "Who is to blame?"
Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Any individual that symbolizes life or energy is subject to projected resentment and jealousy.

3. Bargaining – "Just let me live to see my children graduate."; "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..." The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time..."

4. Depression – "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die... What's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?" During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect oneself from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.

5. Acceptance – "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it." In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with his mortality or that of his loved one.

We on the outside, even those of us who have had the experience, attempt to comfort. Sometimes we are criticized for uttering "platitudes", we are met with anger, we are ridiculed as being unknowing, incapable of understanding. This is part of the process. It is hard, harder for some and, in truth, grief doesn't end in this life.

So do the best you can, don't give up, love those still here. The grief will not end but it will not consume you.

Postscript - Writing this made me think about the accident that happened in front of us as we drove to Gatlinburg last Thanksgiving. I had thought, since we returned home after that trip, that the young lady had survived but I discovered that such was not the case. She had passed about 7 days after the accident. We will continue our prayers for the family.

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