Helping others and yourself through the grieving process

Natalie Dunn, Editor in Chief

104694883This article was originally published on February 25, 2013. In light of the loss Howell High School suffered this past week, the Main Four would like to give the HHS community another look at helping loved ones and oneself through a difficult loss.

By Editor in Chief: Natalie Dunn

Despite what we all like to think, no one is immune to the effects of losing a friend or relative. Sometimes the most difficult part of a loss is knowing how to comfort those who have experienced a death.

The Five Stages of Grief, developed by Elizabeth Ross, are said to be the periods that a person who has suffered a loss will go through in their mind. The first is denial, where a person will think that it was a dream, that it couldn’t really be true. The second is anger: they will want to blame someone for what happened. The third is bargaining. A person will think that, if they be a really good person for the rest of their lives, their loved one will come back. The fourth is depression, or just an overall sadness. The fifth and final stage is acceptance; the grief and sadness may not be gone, but the person has learned to move on and exist without the one they lost.

It has never been defined how long a person goes through each stage, or what order the stages will come in. They’re not rigid, and some may hit someone harder than others.

“Grief affects everyone in a different way,” says Reverend George Lewis of the First United Methodist Church of Howell. “One of the most important things about helping someone through their loss is not to rush them. Allow them to grieve in their own way.”

Reverend Lewis often deals with those who are grieving in his staff position, and he speaks from experience when talking about how to help a friend or a relative who has lost someone.

“[For the short term,] embrace them and support them…but long term, don’t give up on them. Be with them until they’ve come to acceptance, and then remain close.”

The most troubling question that most ask when someone they love is grieving is, “What’s the right thing to say?”  However, what you say may not be what matters, so much as what you do.

“You don’t have to say anything…they won’t keep track of what you say, but they’ll remember that you were there,” says Reverend Lewis. “Don’t worry about saying the right things, just be there for them.”

Some people avoid talking about the person who has passed in order not to upset their friend or relative. It seems as though someone who is grieving wouldn’t want to talk about the person they’ve lost, but as Reverend Lewis put it, “memories are healing.”

Telling someone how to grieve, or when they should be done grieving, is not helpful. But it could be important to monitor their behavior, to an extent, to make sure they’re okay. Grieving is healthy, but can lead to unhealthy behavior.

“Try to see if they’re doing the things they used to enjoy doing. When someone in the church has lost someone, I watch for them to come back to church… You can’t tell someone to stop crying, that they should be better by now, but you can make sure they’re okay.”

Reverend Lewis, while he spends much of his time dealing with those who grieve, also knows from personal experience how hard it is to lose someone. Six years ago, his wife Patty of 27 years died instantly in a car accident.

“I had so much support…I was grieving, but I had to live life with the people who were still here,” says Reverend Lewis. “You have to press on, and find a new normal. Life won’t be the same, but you have to find a way to live without them, and without forgetting them.”

Dealing with grief is hard, and it’s ever harder alone. Knowing someone who has suffered a loss can be confusing, and difficult, but being there for them is sometimes the most that can be done.

“I would say [to someone else who has gone through this kind of grief] that I know this really hurts. We aren’t alone. You’re going to be okay. You may not believe it now, but it will be okay,” Reverend Lewis reflects. “Don’t spend time trying to understand why. It’s okay to remember, and you’re never alone.”