How will you cope through grief?

As we waited 3 long days for the jury to return with a decision of guilty or not guilty for Melissa Todorovic, we were, naturally, unhappy and stressed, yet there were many moments of levity.   I dare say there might have even been as many moments of laughter as there were of tears as we tried desperately to fill the time.

My father is the primary recipient of endless ribbing (all of which he deserves of course) most of the time, and he was more than happy to endure the endless barrage during that difficult period as long as it kept the atmosphere light in our tiny room.

My amazing girlfriend sat and played euchre with us and she and my father cheated their way to victory numerous times, all in good fun.  Co-workers popped in and shared humorous stories, friends and family joined us, all with their best comedic hats on, helping to lighten the mood.

I can’t say I joined in with much of the frivolity, but being surrounded by such uplifting company did wonders to improve my mental state, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Laughter is like a divine gift during the grieving process. It’s a welcome and normal part of the emotional roller-coaster those suffering great loss experience. It seems to go against the linear model of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.  She, who is well known in the field of grief, mapped out the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance.

When Stefanie first died, I looked for those stages to see if I was moving through them, looking for hope to be rid of my pain sooner rather than later, but for some reason, I never did find them.   It was probably because I couldn’t focus on one thing for more than two seconds and therefore didn’t have the patience to keep looking.

Regardless, I think it’s a good thing I never found them because I don’t believe they are accurate—at least they weren’t for me—and to put my hopes in them might have left me disillusioned.

I agree that acceptance is indeed the last step, but I’m not sure we all grieve in such a linear fashion.  George A. Bonanno, in this book, “The Other Side of Sadness” quotes C.W. Lewis is his description of grief.

“Physical pain….is like the steady barrage on a trench in WW1, hours of it with no let-up for a moment….grief is like a bomber circling round and dropping its bombs each time the circle brings it overhead”.

A professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, Dr. Bonanno has now interviewed hundreds of bereaved people, following some for years before and after the fact, looking for patterns.  He has concluded that the grieving are far more resilient than one might imagine and only 10 to 15% of people are likely to struggle with enduring grief reactions.

In comparing people who are generally resilient in their lives to those who aren’t, he states “People who cope well during bereavement have the ability to adjust to the shifting demands of different situations.  These people fair best when grieving.  Optimism is key, confidence that all will be OK, these people gather their strength, regroup, and work toward restoring the balance in their lives.”

Yes, there will be times of deep sadness, or numbness, or fear when those bombs circle overhead.  But there will also be times of laughter and levity when we can come up for air and know that eventually, we will be fine.


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