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When does grieving end?

Can a long period of suffering as grieving be a depression? How long deos the bereaved one may remain in that state of sadness? Do friends who try cheer them up, help or hinder? How can telling our story help? These and other questions populate our minds in the face of the death of a loved one or a friend who has lost someone

We do not know how to deal with death and have a cultural commitment to our own happiness and the happiness of others. We act instinctively towards eliminating the pain of losing someone or fast recovery of a grieving friend. And we do not talk about it because they do not prepare for it. In this very enlightening conversation, Dr. Elaine Gomes dos Reis Alves, a psychologist specialized in bereavement member of the laboratory of studies specialized on  Death of the University of São Paulo and founder of  “Prestar cuidados em Psicologia”, tells us that grieving is not a disease, sadness is not depression and has not chronological time to finish.

Image: Joshua Earle Unsplash

Is There a  “normal” grieving and a “pathological” grieving?

We no longer use the term to classify pathological grieving because grief is not and can not be confused with disease. The society’s understanding and acting as if grieving  was a disease or, worse, as if the sadness of mourning was depression. People say offhand that a person lost his son or husband and “was depressed”.  It can be very sad, but depression is something else. We say that grieving is “complicated” when it puts us at risk of giving up life or can cause a person to illness.

How to identify  a “complicated” grieving process?

Prolonged or complicated grieving is not defined by its duration, but by the elaboration of the pain and the death itself of a beloved one. It is the understanding, by the bereaved one, that the person has died and he has to move on. This is an internal time called Kairós designating the right time, not the Chrono time, which measures the number of days or hours. For a widower who has lost his wife, say, three years ago, the grieving period may seem too long for others but it is not. In our service we attend, for instance, bereavement situations of parents who have lost children 10 years ago.

Why do we want to shorten the grieving process and set a time for this process?

As we split death from life, we don`t know what to do with it. Everyone has an obligation to be happy. Since people do not know what to say about death, they believe that if they speak, it will prevent the bereaved suffering. What I hear from my patients is the opposite: being unable to express pain is an aggression. They want to talk, be heard and they are afraid that the death of a beloved one is forgotten. They end up with this task, often uncomfortable, to keep reminding the person existed, had a history and made a difference in the lives of others. Often they are feeling unwanted in their circles and end up moving away, feeling very lonely. When not away, they turn away because they think that people are not prepared to give the support they need.

What is the importance of talking about grieving?

People always want to talk, the difficulty is to be heard. And talking is what will help them , prepare them and make mourning process faster. All the bereaved ones need to talk about  those who died. Once the person dies, the bereaved one has several times the same story, usually about the last day they were together until the moment he received the news of death. Every time you meet them, they will tell the story. This is the first factor to cause distance from friends. They think: I go there and he will repeat it. Or you will tell him or her  they have told it before. But it is exactly this act of repeating the story numerous times, which leads to understanding. It is a very positive resource, very healthy. The Jewish people do it: within the Jewish religious rituals of mourning, the bereaved person is never alone, they always have someone beside them in silence, just to hear about their pain. It is important to think about how not prepared to hear the pain of others we are and how prepared we are or how to prepare our children to act in the face of the suffering of others.

Are there more difficult losses to be prepared for?

Although all deaths of loved ones cannot be compared, the situations around them can offer more or less comfort for those who stay. There is no greater or smaller pain: there is pain. However, there are circumstances in which the person who is suffering cannot support anything. A mother who lost one child, for example. When there are other children, they will not replace in any way, but may require parents to continue living. And give them the maternity or paternity achievements. A person who loses a single child or losing more than one child in an accident or having to deal with a separation after the trauma may need more time to prepare for all this.

Are there positive ways to fill the void left by the one who is gone?

When a mother loses a child, as a woman or a man loses his partner may have a desperate desire to adopt or conceive, or have a new love. And that does not always help: can be only a desperate search for the person who is gone.

There are different reactions to a loss. There are people who are very sad and also those who become bitter and angry. How to deal with those who come to hate the world?

Earlier anger is part of the process and is healthy. The bereaved one is often crazy for an argue. But the persistence of this attitude can make the grieving process more complicated. Often anger is prolonged because the person has no room to express it. The world is still happy avoiding  their pain and making them feel very lonely. So it’s normal to be angry because the world is still happy and ignores their pain. The possibility of these people to develop complicated grieving processes and getting sick is higher. It is a vicious circle: the more anger increases, the more it puts people off, which leaves them angrier. You need to receive and understand  their anger. The people around cannot endorse the feeling, but they can understand it. One patient told me that, after losing her baby daughter, she could not see a pregnant woman without having negative feelings. You may not agree with this reaction but you can understand it, that’s all she needs.

Having friends saying that the bereaved person has to recover, get back on track, be happy, doesn`t help to move forward, does it?

Outsiders understand quickly that the person who died will not come back, and feel the need to “pull” the bereaved one back to life. But no use, it is not the way it is, friends need to understand the time of that person. In the case of a widow, for example, there is always the desire of friends for this person to meet someone else. This  is seen by the bereaved as a major assault. Imagine someone crying because she lost a husband or wife. It is cruel to say: you will find someone else. They may feel betrayed by friends and feel betraying the person who died. We, on the other hand, don`t have the patience to wait for someone else’s timing.

When does grieving end?

We don’t talk about ending a grieving any more. We talk about ending its elaboration process. It’s when the bereaved starts making plans without the person who passed away. When it comes to a widowhood for example, it doesn’t mean to have a new boyfriend or a girlfriend. But when you understand that the person is not there any more and you decide to move on. And you allow yourself to be happy. This is such a hard permission because during the grieving there is a lot of guilt. The bereaved punishes itself for having forgotten the beloved person for a day or some minutes. Deciding to be happy again is not a betrayal and finding it out takes as much time as the person needs.