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Grief’s Dichotomy

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George Galdiano ORIGINALThe TV talk show host Ricki Lake aired a segment called “Mourning the Loss of a Child.” An expert was brought in to counsel a grieving couple who had recently lost a daughter. The show drew heavy criticism from some bereaved parents, and I decided to watch it to see what was said.

 

The Five Stages of Grief

The first thing the expert mentioned was Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance – as if there was an orderly progression to grief. These stages are so ubiquitous that people often think there is something wrong if someone doesn’t go through the stages in order or if they skip a stage. This simply isn’t true. Kubler-Ross only meant these stages as broad generalizations. The stages can occur in any order. People often re-experience the same stages many different times. Some stages may never occur, and many other emotions are often experienced. The bottom line is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

 

Depression

The expert then said the couple was stuck in depression and needed to move on to acceptance. Not only can the stages occur in any order (or not at all), the stages are not mutually exclusive. When someone loses a child, he/she may experience intense sadness for many years, but that does not mean they haven’t accepted that the child is gone. Also, as mentioned on WebMD.com, intense sadness after loss is normal and may not warrant diagnosing the person as clinically depressed. However, if the person has suicidal thoughts or cannot function, immediate help should be sought.

Intense Sadness Normal After Loss, Miranda Hitti, www.WebMD.com.

 

Fake It Until You Make It

The expert then told the couple that they have to “fake it until you make it.” He didn’t elaborate on what he meant, but I took that as he was advising the couple to act happy until they felt normal again.

I disagree with this because I think it is important to express grief in appropriate ways and to let people know when we are struggling. Of course, we have to balance that with how much we want to reveal and whom we want to reveal it to.

 

It Can’t Be Healthy for Your Children to See their Parents So Sad

After the expert told the couple to fake it until they make it, Ricki interjected that it can’t be healthy for children to see their parents so sad. Not only do I think it is healthy for children to see their parents grieve, I think it is important that they do. One of the way children learn is by modeling their parents’ behavior. When they see their parents grieve, they learn that grief is natural and it is okay if they grieve too and express their emotions. They have the inner strength to survive and overcome tragedy. Of course, we need to be sure we are expressing our grief in healthy ways. Talk to your children in an age appropriate manner, and avoid exposing them to adult issues.

 

Talk to Friends

The expert asked the wife if she had friends she could talk to, and she said she did. Having supportive friends who know how to listen is a great resource. The only downside is that even though our friends have the best intentions, not all of them are good listeners.

 

Join a Support Group

Perhaps the best advice given on the segment was the suggestion that the couple should join a support group. Support groups, such as Compassionate Friends or GriefShare, provide a safe and caring environment where people who have lost a child can share their emotions and connect with other bereaved parents.

 

This Ricki Lake episode discussed above is available here.

 

If you watch it, please let me know what you think. I’d also be interested in hearing about the best or worst advice you received after the loss of your child.

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