Handbook for Mortals : Enduring Loss

Grief is one of the most universal human emotions - and one of the most isolating. All the world may love a lover, but few of us know how to honor grief - how to be with a grieving person, or how to handle our own grief. Sometimes grief is overwhelming: how can life possibly go on! Sometimes, though, grief is much less severe. Perhaps life has been so hard that survivors really feel death is a release. Perhaps faith in an afterlife helps. Perhaps the survivor has learned from a prior experience. Grieving is the mark of having been close to another person. The only way to avoid grieving is to avoid having loved.

Each person grieves in her own way, according to her own needs. There is no formula for grief, and no way around it. Like other emotions, grief is simply there, like love, joy, anger, or fear. As with other emotions, we cannot wish grief away, nor can we avoid it. Some of us may try to ignore grief, or pretend it does not exist, but eventually we will feel it.

Grief, like death, is hard to discuss. Unlike other emotions that we have grown comfortable expressing or describing, we have no ready words for grief or bereavement. When we’re happy, we can say we are on top of the world, flying high, on cloud nine. We can use clichés for anger, too, and say someone has had it up to here, sees red, or blows his top.

Grief has no such expression. But grief has a range of accompanying feelings: anger, loneliness, depression, guilt, relief, sorrow, fear, anxiety. In the midst of grief, we may swing from one emotion to the next, unprepared for the strength of our feelings and uncertain what to make of them.

Grief is a country we all must visit, and it helps to know what it’s like there, how others have survived the journey, the maps they followed, the setbacks, and what they learned along the way. This chapter describes the grief that comes with dying. We talk about the changing nature of grief, and how grief can occur many times in the course of an illness, both before and after the death of someone you love. We offer suggestions on how to live through grief, ways to grieve with and for the dying person, and how to cope during difficult times, such as holidays, birthdays, and other anniversary dates. We describe problems that can occur when grief is overwhelming, and where to turn when you need help.

Grieving your own dying
Telling your story
Questions to get you started
The cycle of grief
Frequent markers of loss
Experiencing grief – family and loved ones
Living with loss of a loved one
Music and mourning
Children’s understanding of death
How to comfort a child
Reinvesting in life after the loss of someone you love

Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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