Counseling, support groups can help ‘stuck’ grieversWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
Grief is a personal journey and no two journeys are exactly alike, area counselors say.
“There are people who come in and say, ‘I’m grieving, but I don’t think I’m doing it right,’” said Mary Macek, a clinical therapist at Harbor in Toledo. “Some of what we do with folks is just to normalize the grief process, to reassure people they are not going crazy.”
One of the biggest misconceptions is that grief follows a timetable, said Dawn DeFalco, a counselor and team leader for bereavement at Hospice of Northwest Ohio.
“Grief is a lifetime journey and the journey ebbs and flows,” DeFalco said. “Many people feel they’ve come to terms with it, but then they are surprised months or years later when something triggers a special memory of a loved one.”
Macek agreed. “Grief is a funny process. Even in its natural resolution, there are ups and downs and sometimes people have periods of time where they think, ‘OK, I’m doing better,’ and then all of a sudden they are overwhelmed by grief again and say, ‘OK, what did I do wrong?’ But I think it’s in the nature of grief to have those times when grief is more distressing again, so I don’t think it’s necessarily strictly a liner process even when it’s going well.”
Many are familiar with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ “five stages of grief” — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — but not everyone experiences every stage and they don’t necessarily happen in that order, Macek said.
“It’s just to give a model to something that seems pretty overwhelming and out of control to a lot of people, but I like to think of grief as something that is normal and adaptive,” Macek said.
Many people who have lost a loved one feel lost after the funeral, Macek said.
“The funeral’s over, you’re back to work, everything is supposed to be fine and dandy and it’s not,” Macek said. “We don’t have a lot of visible markers in our culture beyond the funeral for dealing with loss. There are some countries in which the bereaved person is relieved of all the things they have to do on a daily basis for a year. We don’t seem to have some of those cultural norms anymore.”
Many people seek help from a counselor or support group when they feel “stuck,” she said.
“Sometimes people get stuck on guilt. They think, ‘Boy, there should have been something else I could have done to prevent it,’” Macek said. “Some people get stuck in depression. They think that if they start to get happy, if they start to live their life again, they are going to lose their connection to the person who’s died. And some people get stuck because of the trauma. If a loved one has died in a sudden or violent way, there is some trauma associated with that that can impede their ability to resolve grief issues. A caregiver who has provided care for several years to someone whose condition has gotten progressively worse, I think those folks are somewhat traumatized too.”
Harbor and Hospice of Northwest Ohio offer individual and family grief counseling. The hospice sessions are free to all. Hospice also offers several free grief support groups, including groups for children, men and spouses.
“The support groups help people normalize what they have experienced so they don’t feel so alone,” DeFalco said. “It’s about getting back to some kind of normalcy in their life even though it’s going to be new normal for most people.”
When Maryellen Schmidt’s 20-year-old son died in a car accident, she sought help from GriefShare, a free 13-week, Christian-based group for anyone who has lost a loved one, offered through CedarCreek Church’s LifeSupport series. People can join at any time and work through the series as many times as they need, Schmidt said.
Schmidt participated in GriefShare for two years before becoming a group leader two years ago.
“Those who have not experienced grief are often uncomfortable around those who are grieving and often shut the bereaved person down,” Schmidt said. “When you have a loved one who has died, you don’t just get over it and get back to work. It takes time.”
GriefShare leaders facilitate the sessions through videos and workbooks.
“The leaders are not counselors. We’re just people who have experienced the death of a loved one and have dealt with grief,” Schmidt said. “I would encourage people to step forward to get help. Choking that grief and pushing it down leads to all kinds of other problems. As painful as it is, it’s most helpful and most beneficial to face it.”
Schmidt also operates the Northwest Ohio chapter of The Compassionate Friends, a nonprofit organization for parents who have lost a child. The group meets at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month at St. James Lutheran Church, 4727 W. Sylvania Ave., but is not affiliated with any faith.
The group will host a fundraiser called Walk to Remember on Oct. 13. Registration is $5. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most people think of grief as a response to a death, but there are many situations that cause grief, Macek said.
“People who have experienced trauma as children, when they are resolving that they are in part grieving the childhood they didn’t have,” Macek said. “If someone has a difficult relationship with a parent, part of the adjustment to a healthier relationship with that parent may be grieving the loss of the parent you didn’t have so you can actually have a relationship with the parent you do.”
Counseling isn’t the right fit for everyone. Some people, including many men, are “functional” grievers, Macek said. Instead of wanting to talk about it, they want to be doing something.
“For some people, talking is probably not the best way of accomplishing things,” Macek said. “They want to work on a project and while they are working on things, sometimes their grief can resolve that way.”
After resolving immediate issues, there are still adjustments to be made.
“People have had expectations about how their life was going to look going forward and all of a sudden it doesn’t look that way and they have to make a new plan,” Macek said. “That’s kind of a long-term consequence of grief.”
For more information, visit www.hospicenwo.org or www.harbor.org.