Most of our parents were never told how to grieve, so what we have been taught is all they knew when it comes to moving past the experience of loss. I may have said this in another post, but my first recollection of how to deal with a loss was “have a cookie, you’ll feel better”. I remember, at a young age, feeling left out of playing in the schoolyard by my best friend. When I relayed the experience in the schoolyard to my mother, she gave me milk and cookies. Did it work? Well, it tasted good but did little to ease the pain of feeling left out, nor help me understand that what I may have been feeling was normal and natural.
It always surprises people when I speak of grief experiences. We immediately connect grief with death but we also grieve many, many losses in a life time and respond with the same learned behaviors. These behaviors may work for the short term but do little to help us work through our grief. If you’ve been told that cookies will make you feel better, do you turn to food when you’re sad? If you were taught not to cry in public, do you suppress your feelings or cry alone? Do you busy yourself so you don’t have to feel the pain of grieving a loss?
The cliché “history repeats itself” certainly allies to how we have learned to respond when we feel sad, lonely, devastated by a death or loss of what was, or a change in the life and routine that we knew.
What is most helpful? Learning a new method of responding to loss. Re-training and learning how to let go and reach a feeling of completion, with clear action steps, is necessary. In my recent work with one grieving widow she relayed how she had learned, through the program, that she has repeated her learned response to a loss in the same way since she was in her early teens. She brought that learned behavior to her grief experience as a widow three years earlier. Had it helped to move her forward through the process? No, not at all.
For some the “have a cookie, you’ll feel better” becomes “have a drink you’ll feel better”. All too frequently, due to ignorance on the part of most healthcare practitioners, the cookie becomes a prescription for anti-anxiety medication or anti-depressants. Do these temporary fixes work? Yes, they do…temporarily. Often times their use leads to addictions and continued unresolved grief. A short time ago a widow from 9-11, Sandy Dahl, died from acute heart failure due to the combined effects of alcohol and multiple prescription drugs. Anti-depression, anti-anxiety, painkiller and tranquilizer drugs were found in her blood stream.
The news quoted her as having said one year ago that the incident of 9-11 for her “was never going away”. One has to wonder why no one was able to guide her through her grief process to completion. “She kept busy” was the comment made by all who knew her, too busy to give herself the time to heal.