Amy Eksteen

I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about this topic for a while now. It’s not the happiest topic to talk about, but I think it’s definitely necessary. So, for the next two days, we will be discussing the experience of grief and loss.

In this life, experiencing grief and loss is inevitable. It’s part of the human experience, yet we often don’t talk and know a lot about it.

When I was an intern, I had the privilege of attending CPD (continuing professional development) workshops, at my internship placement. CPD workshops are a chance for health professionals to continually update their professional knowledge and skills. We have to earn certain points every year. One of the workshops that really stood out to me was presented and facilitated by Dr. Illene N. Cupit whose work is focused on death, dying and bereavement (Thanatology). The workshop was titled: An overview to bereavement, grief and mourning: A U.S. perspective. It was based on a U.S. perspective since that is where Dr. Cupit and the majority of her work is done, but I think a lot of the information discussed and shared in the workshop is applicable to other contexts and groups of people. A lot of the information I learned from the workshop really changed my perspective on how we, as people, experience, understand and cope with death, loss and grief. I think that the information I learned about that day is worth sharing, with the hopes of bringing about a better understanding to those who may be grieving, mourning and dealing with loss.

Before the workshop, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I had a lot to learn because we aren’t often taught about death, even as psychology students. I also went in with a mindset that I had ‘never experienced a lot of loss in my life’, but to my surprise, I in fact had and was busy coping with my own experiences and emotions. You see, I learned that we don’t only grieve when a loved one passes away. We may feel a sense of loss when a relationship or friendship ends, when we move away from our home towns and/or childhood homes, when we leave for university or when our children leave home. We might even feel a sense of loss when we ourselves change, therefore grieving a past version of ourselves or a past way of life. We experience loss when we retire and age or with any major changes we experience in our lives. We can also experience loss and grief with employment changes, health changes and after a traumatic event/s. We can’t put a limit on what we are supposed to grieve and mourn or how we should deal with loss. It’s a subjective experience. We will each grieve and feel a sense of loss for different things. We will deal with loss in our own ways as there is no one singular way we all respond to it. We will also grieve for our own amount of time.

One of the things that stood out to me when discussing the topic of grief and loss was that we are essentially living in, what Dr. Cupit explains as, a “death-avoidant culture”. This means that as a society, we just don’t like talking about death. This could be, among other reasons, because we fear maybe heightening the pain and experience of our and others loss and grief. We often find ways to ‘dull things down’ by using explanations like “passed away”, “gone home” or “went to sleep”. We like to shy away from pain as a whole, which is understandable, but the consequences might be that we, especially from a young age, aren’t being socialised well with death. When we tend to shy away from talking about death, we are depriving ourselves from building an understanding about it and a means of coping with it. This causes unhealthy coping styles and a way for people to become “locked in their grief”, which could also potentially lead to more people dealing with mental illness. If we don’t talk openly and freely about death, loss and grief, especially the way it is affecting us and how painful the grieving and mourning experiences can be, we begin bottling up our feelings and having to find ways to deal with our thoughts, emotions and experiences alone.

Loss and grief, is an all-encompassing experience – it is the process where one has to physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually come to terms with the changes death and loss may bring. We are also affected physically (our body goes through changes), cognitively (our mind goes through changes) and behaviourally (our sleeping, eating, emotions and social interaction go through changes too) when experiencing grief and loss. What we need to remember is that grieving and having to deal with loss is a universal experience. We all have to deal with it at some stage in our lives, some of us sooner than later. Why do we then avoid talking about it and why do we deal with our experiences alone?

There are different types of grief styles. Like I said earlier, there is not only one way to deal with loss and grief. We will all go through different experiences and therefore will have different grieving styles. Our styles are affected by our biology, our culture/belief system, expectations placed on us by gender roles, our personalities and even influenced by our families, to name a few.

1) Intuitive grief: This type of grieving includes more apparent grieving behaviours. There is an expression and intensity of feelings and emotion.
2) Instrumental grief: These grievers tend to function in a state of denial or distraction from the sense of loss, usually not showing any expression or reaction towards their loss and grief.
3) Blended grief: This type of grief functions as a continuum and these grievers go through phases inclusive of the characteristics of both intuitive and instrumental patterns of grief.

Intuitive grief is considered to be the more ‘feminine’ way to grieve as it includes more apparent emotion and instrumental grief, considered the more ‘masculine’ way, since these type of grievers tend to not show as much emotion or reaction to their loss. Unfortunately if a male/female don’t fit their ‘grieving norm’, society often doesn’t acknowledge the griever, depriving them of very needed social support. However, as I have stated before, we all grieve in our own ways. Many females grieve instrumentally and there are males who are intuitive grievers. Our grief manifests differently and can’t be limited to gender. Some might even become confused or frustrated with blended grievers as they move up and down the continuum. The point is that we need to be knowledgable and accepting of any way someone chooses to manifest and cope with their grief. It does more harm to ignore or avoid the experience than to deal with it, understand it, gain support and find healthy ways to cope, just like ignoring and not recognising the signs of how someone else is dealing with grief can do just as much harm.

Remember that by grieving, you are not forgetting. You’re allowed to grieve and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It may be a life-long process of getting to know yourself through this journey and learning to cope with all the experiences that come along with it. It is also important to keep this in mind when someone close to you is experiencing loss and grief.

This concludes Part 1. Tomorrow, in Part 2, we will be discussing the stages of grief, 4 tasks that accompany the grieving process as well as we will take a look at what is meant by “the assumptive world”. Part 2 will also include 7 ways to cope with grief and loss.

Until tomorrow xx