Experts share insight into grief process

LEWISTOWN — “The grieving process is not simple and cannot be generalized,” said Barbara Partner, of Guss Funeral Home Inc.

In light of National Grief Awareness Day, Partner and Beverly Kline-Lash, Licensed Professional Counselor in Beaver Springs, encourage those who are grieving that they are not alone and that working through grief can take time.

“The grieving process is not quick,” Partner said. “The act of grieving is what gets us through to our ‘new normal,’ and this process can’t, and shouldn’t, be forced or hurried.”

An article in the National Library of Medicine noted that a more recent stage model of grief “organizes psychological responses into four stages,” rather than the five stages– denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — established by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.” The four stages include numbness-disbelief, separation distress, depression-mourning and recovery.

Additionally, the article referred to a book by Wild E. Knott JE which supported the concept of anticipatory grief, often experienced by family of terminally ill patients and the patients themselves; “a subject of considerable concern and controversy,” noted the article. The stages of anticipatory grief include depression, heightened concern for the dying person, rehearsal of the death and attempts to adjust to the consequences of the death.

“The stages only serve as a framework for grief,” Partner said. “They are not always linear and each person is an individual, who handles grief in (his or her) own unique way.”

Kline-Lash said people who grieve generally progress through the stages “with an array of emotions.”

“As humans, we don’t fit into one box, so, our grieving processes or steps can vary,” Kline-Lash said. “Plus, grieving doesn’t just occur when we experience a loss of a loved one. We grieve when we lose a beloved pet, or when we lose a job, or when we move to a different location, or when there is a divorce or separation in the family. There are many reasons we grieve. There are times individuals do follow the order of stages, but sometimes one is skipped, or all are skipped except one stage.”

Partner said there are many practical applications of processing grief.

“Each person has different needs during their grief cycle,” Partner said, including talking things out in support groups or with family and friends. “Each person has to find what is right for them and do it. The process depends on their faith, depth of feeling and their support network.

Kline-Lash encourages her patients to “share their story (and) identify various feelings” which helps her help them develop coping skills.

“Everyone is different and reacts differently when grieving,” Kline-Lash said. “People can get ‘stuck’ in a stage of grief. I’ve worked with individuals who have been in the anger stage for an extended period of time, or years, and, they don’t realize why they are still angry. They might be in one of the other stages for an extended period of time. When this happens, they can miss out on positive chances to build a new life. Individuals and families are encouraged to seek professional help so they don’t get stuck in the grieving process and can obtain recovery.”

Family and friends supporting the grieving person are encouraged to be understanding and patient with the one grieving.

“It is important to understand there are going to be good days and bad days and that, hopefully, the good ones will eventually outnumber the bad,” Partner said. “The several days immediately after (loss) are very busy. People need support after the service is over, when everyone goes home. Sometimes the grieving person does not know what they need and is not able to verbalize it. Offering to do a specific task can be more beneficial than saying ‘call me if you need anything’ (and) it can be positive to continue to share memories with the survivors.”

Kline-Lash added that people of all ages experience grief and need support.

“Many adults forget or don’t understand that children grieve,” Kline-Lash said.

According to the American Academy for Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “when a family member dies, children react differently from adults. Preschool children usually see death as temporary and reversible, a belief reinforced by cartoon characters who die and come to life again. Children between five and nine begin to think more like adults about death, yet they still believe it will never happen to them or anyone they know. It is normal during the weeks following the death for some children to feel immediate grief or persist in the belief that the family member is still alive.”

Kline-Lash provides her services through PAL Enterprises of Central PA LLC and can be reached at (570) 559-8502. Partner also offers herself and Guss Funeral Home Inc. resources to her grieving clientele.

“We have information available in our library on talking with children about death, on the cremation process, on planning and personalizing funeral services and even how to cope with the death of a family pet,” Partner said. “I try to make sure that I am very clear in what the process is, what their choices are, what I will do for them and what they can expect. They know that I am always available, whether they have a question or just need to talk, at the time of the (loss) or months later.”

Bohn Funeral Home, another local funeral home in the Juniata Valley, has links on their website to other sources such as webhealing.com, willowgreen.com, the American Association of Retired Persons, Growth House and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, which offer additional support.

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