Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Many Dimensions of Loss and Grief

alzheimers-s2-woman-blinking During this season’s first episode of TV’s “Dancing With the Stars,” actress Jennifer Grey surprised herself when she broke into tears upon hearing the song she and her partner would be dancing to.

It was a song from the movie “Dirty Dancing,” which evoked strong memories of her friend and co-star Patrick Swayze, who died last year of complications from pancreatic cancer.

Grey’s strong reaction, more than a year after her friend’s death, was normal. The song may have brought her back to a time when she and Swayze worked closely together on the film, allowing her to grieve the loss of her friend all over again.

Almost everyone who’s lost someone they care for can describe a moment where a song, object or even a smell triggered a memory of the deceased and reignited feelings of loss and grief.

As humans, our grief knows few boundaries.

How well or long we knew the person cannot predict the intensity of our grief. We might grieve for someone we have known for a long time, such as a parent or sibling; for a short time, like a classmate we hardly knew; or for someone we never met, such as JFK or Princess Diana.

We may feel the same intensity of loss for someone who died moments ago and someone who passed decades before.

Doug Smith, a national speaker and author on the topics of grief, loss and healing, recently spoke at a workshop hosted by Buena Vista Hospice. Smith noted that the dictionary definition of grief is “intense sorrow caused by loss of a loved one.”

Based upon that definition, he said, “We expect everyone’s reaction to loss to be the same— tears, depression, anger and sadness.”

Smith said, however, that there are different styles of grieving.

People who are intuitive feel the need to express their feelings. They exhibit what are considered the traditional forms of dealing with grief, such as crying and sadness. An example of an intuitive griever is Stevie Wonder, who, along with John Legend, sang “The Way You Make Me Feel” during a Michael Jackson tribute. Everything was going fine until Wonder got caught up with emotion and started sobbing uncontrollably.

Instrumental grievers deal with grief by finding ways to process their feelings or by immersing themselves in an activity. An example of an instrumental griever would be Candy Lightner, who founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving after her daughter was killed by a repeat DUI offender.

Different styles of grieving can be challenging for couples or families. After the death of their son, “Gary” watched his wife display an overabundance of grief while he was upset by his own lack of outward emotion.

Most of us aren’t aware of how others process loss and grief, so “Gary” did not know his reaction was normal.

If you or a friend are dealing with loss and grief, consider one of the many bereavement support groups in the area. Many local hospice organizations also offer support.

Hospice of the Conejo offers a grief support center to individuals and families. All services are provided at no cost. They can be reached at (805) 495-2145.


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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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