Kimberly N. Alleyne
The Harvest Magazine, Publisher and editor
Grief sparks a range of complex emotions that are constantly changing, much like a kaleidoscope. And for some who are mining their way through a loss, the feelings ricochet of every aspect of life for what can seem like a lifetime.
To His children, God is the God of all comfort, and He has promised to replace our mourning with dancing. And He catches collects every tear, even those we fight to hold back.
Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness. Psalm 30:11
Everyone manages grief differently, of course; coping methods are as varied as the situations that cause grief to rear itself to begin with— the end of a job, a relationship, marriage, or even a closed door to a pursued desire.
Loss has many faces.
No matter the circumstance, coping with the loss of a loved one can trigger a wave of especially extreme emotional trauma and stress. The feelings of despair, loneliness, and shock can linger long after the death. Though grief, unfortunately, touches most people, either through the loss of a relative, close friend or pet, the methods of handling it are as varied as the events that lead to the losses which spur the emotion.
Much research has been done to explain what grief is and how to cope with loss but, there is no foolproof solution to handle grief or bereavement. Grief is an individual experience just as one’s response to it is unique and distinctive.
“People grieve according to their personalities. If someone tends to have a hysterical personality, then he or she will probably grieve hysterically,” said Shelley Tatelbaum, director and founder of The Center for Grief, Loss and Life Transition in the Town of Poughkeepsie.
Tatelbaum, a certified grief therapist (MS,CGT), said there are no “stages of grief” as is commonly believed.
“Grief is a universal experience, but it is a very unique experience and there is no thumbprint,” Tatelbaum said.
Support groups, therapy and counseling are common ways of addressing feelings of loss, but not everyone engages in these activities. Tatelbaum said there are other ways that can be helpful on the path to healing.
“The Center provides family therapy, group therapy and children’s therapy and we are also a referral center, but sometimes bibliotherapy and communicating via e-mail can be helpful,” Tatelbaum said.
Bibilotherapy is a coping tool in which those who are suffering a loss read books about grief to help in their recovery.
Though some may shy away from group settings following the death of a loved one, others find it to be therapeutic.
“I used to not come because I told myself, ‘No one can help me,’ but this group has been a lifeline for me,” said Cindy Ruiz about the Mid-Hudson Chapter of the Bereaved Parents of the USA.
The local chapter was co-founded in June 2003 by Kathy Corrigan and Ginger Doulos. The support group offers a sounding board for parents who are grieving the loss of a child.
Cindy and her husband Tom lost their son Jonathan in August 2006 when he was killed in a car accident. He was 25.
“I never thought you could die from a broken heart, but when our son died, I knew you could because the grief is so bad. But this group helps because people here have gone through what we’re going through and have been able to go on with their lives, so that helps us,” Cindy Ruiz said.
Tom Ruiz agrees that attending the support group meetings has provided an avenue of solace, and though interacting with others who have been through like circumstances has been comforting, he admits it is not a fraternity people seek out.
“This is a club you don’t want to join,” he said.
Corrigan, who lost her middle son Michael 18 years ago, also found relief “through the help of other bereaved parents, reading and a good network of friends and family, I have survived,” but said the grief stays with you.
“The loss of a child is a very different kind of loss and you learn how to deal with it, but you don’t ever really recover from it,” Corrigan said.
Besides the monthly meetings, the Mid-Hudson Chapter of Bereaved Parents publishes a newsletter, offers phone counseling and holds a candle lighting ceremony each year.
“I am in the recovery stage now and I feel that I have a lot to give back to the community. That’s my work and it’s very important work—I feel it is Michael’s work,” Corrigan said.
Dolores Biederbeck, of the Town of Poughkeepsie, has not sought the help of therapy or support groups.
“I haven’t gone to any support groups. I felt maybe I would resent people for having a chance to say goodbye, but reality is setting in now since it’s been a year,” the mother of two sons said.
Biederbeck lost her husband, Robert, of 26 years when he was killed in a car accident in August 2006.
“I think the hardest part was not being able to say goodbye because it was so sudden,” Biederbeck said.
Biederbeck said the adjustment to being a widow has been overwhelming.
“Being a spouse and now having to deal with everything on your own has been hard. I have no one to lean on, even for simple decisions like what to fix for dinner,” Biederbeck said.
Biederbeck said getting on with life is not easy to do.
“There is always something to remind you. Something is always popping up to remind you of what happened. You try to move on, but you don’t really move on,” Biederbeck said.
“It’s been a whole year and people say I’m doing well, but I don’t know if I really am or if I’m just pretending. I can put on a good show in front of others, but when I’m by myself it’s different.”
Many may not understand that grieving is a slow progression. Despite conventional beliefs amongst society, Tatelbaum said there is no timeframe for the grieving process.
“Popular notion is that by the third or fourth month, you’re supposed to be doing better, but we live in a fast-food society that expects grieving to progress quickly,” Tatelbaum said.
Instead therapists rely on the Four Tasks of Mourning Philosophy.
“The first task is to accept the reality that the death happened. This can be difficult even with an expected death such as cancer,” Tatelbaum explained.
The second task is to experience the pain of grief. During this task, Tatelbaum said, a bereaved person will receive coping tools and healthy ways to channel their anger or to deal with guilt or depression.
In the third task, the person learns to adjust to his or her environment without that person and the fourth task involves the person learning to move forward.
The final task involves the bereaved to “invest emotional energy into the future instead of being stuck in the past,” Tatelbaum said. “The goal of grief therapy is to learn how to live with the tragedy, not to accept it and to add meaning and purpose to life.”
Despite the varied channels of support available to those suffering the loss of a loved one, coping with grief is an ongoing challenge.
“Time doesn’t heal the pain, it just teaches you how to live with a broken heart,” Cindy Ruiz said.
Corrigan, through her work in the community to help other bereaved parents, has developed an encouraging mantra:
“In every bad circumstance, there’s a hidden gift if you wait to see it,” Corrigan said.