The following information was published by Hospice Foundation of America

Whenever we face loss, we experience grief. Our reactions are unique and individual; none of us experience grief in the same way.

Not only are we different, but our losses are different. Some may grieve a spouse, others a child, parent, brother, sister, or friend. Each of these relationships is unique. Some may have been close; others may have had more tension or conflict. Circumstances may differ. Some losses are sudden, while others follow a prolonged illness. And we may each be able to draw upon different levels of support.

As we experience loss, we may need to remind ourselves of these basic facts. Sometimes we torture ourselves wondering why we do not respond as others, even our family members, do. But each of us is different.

We may feel anger — at God, towards the person who died, perhaps towards someone who we feel is not responding the way we’d like him or her to respond. We may feel guilt, too. Could we have done something differently or done more? We may even feel responsible for the loss.

Other emotions are common. Feelings of sadness, longing for the person’s presence, jealousy of others who have not experienced our loss, even relief that a prolonged illness has ended, may trouble us, but they are normal and natural responses to grief. Grief may affect us in other ways. In some, the experience of grief may be physical: aches and pains, difficulty eating or sleeping, fatigue. We may constantly think of the person, even replaying in our mind some final episode or experience. Grief can affect our spiritual selves. We may struggle to find meaning in our loss; our relationship with God may change.

Grief may be described as a roller coaster. It is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, times that we may think we are doing better and times that we may think we are sure we are not. The metaphor reminds us that our sense of progress may feel very uneven.

But there are things we can do to help ourselves as we experience grief. First it is important to accept the fact that we are grieving. Take time to grieve, to realize that life will be different, and sometimes difficult. We need to be gentle with ourselves.

Second, we can learn from the ways we have handled loss before. We need to draw on our resources — the coping skills we have, our own sources of support, and our spiritual strengths. And from earlier experiences, we can learn the mistakes we need to avoid.

We do not have to struggle alone. We can share our grief with family and friends. We can seek help from clergy or counselors. Hospices may be able to suggest mutual support groups. And librarians and bookstores can recommend books that can assist us as we grieve.

Shattering Eight Myths About Grief

Over time, people learn to live with the loss, but it’s not something you get over. The grieving process is a series of ups and downs, and often it’s more intense in the early years. The thing that we need to remember is that you never have to like a loss. You just have to learn to accept it and deal with it. A more accurate understanding of the way grief affects us can facilitate healing.

Myth 1: We only grieve deaths.
Reality: We grieve all losses.

Myth 2: Only family members grieve.
Reality: All who are attached grieve.

Myth 3: Grief is an emotional reaction.
Reality: Grief is manifested in many ways.

Myth 4: Individuals should leave grieving at home.
Reality: We cannot control where we grieve.

Myth 5: We slowly and predictably recover from grief.
Reality: Grief is an uneven process, a roller coaster with no timeline.

Myth 6: Grieving means letting go of the person who died.
Reality: We never fully detach from those who have died.

Myth 7: Grief finally ends.
Reality: Over time most people learn to live with loss.

Myth 8: Grievers are best left alone.
Reality: Grievers need opportunities to share their memories and grief, and to receive support.

Facing Sudden Loss

Of all the experiences we confront in life, the toughest to face is the sudden, unexpected loss of someone we love. Loss in itself is painful enough, but sudden loss is shocking. The shock doubles our pain and intensifies our grief.

Even if on some level we understand that no one lives forever, actually losing people we love is unimaginable. When we know someone we love has a fatal disease or when we have nursed a loved one who is very ill, we have a chance to begin to prepare for their loss — at least a little. However, the unexpected death of a loved one — regardless of how that loved one dies — can leave us stunned, lost, and overwhelmed with pain. We may not know where to begin to cope.

Sudden loss gives us no chance to prepare. It is not unusual that we feel cheated by a sudden death, cheated of a chance to say the last words we would have liked to say or to do some last act that would have had meaning to us — like a hug, a kiss, a walk hand in hand. Missing out from having a way of saying some kind of goodbye can leave us feeling especially bereft for weeks or even months. Feeling cheated in this way can add to our grief, anguish and despair.

Besides our feeling cheated by it, sudden loss can make the world feel shaky or less safe. This is a natural response to any unexpected and traumatic event. When we feel as if someone we love is suddenly ‘yanked’ out of our lives, we are left feeling that the world isn’t a safe place. We may then become fearful and uncertain, or angry and frustrated. This loss can negatively colour our view of life, but hopefully only temporarily.

When we face a sudden loss, all at once we have three overwhelming tasks to deal with: Our grief over the loss of our loved one, the absence of this special person from our daily lives, and the changes in our lives that are caused by this loss. Each is a big task to take on, and each will become a part of our mourning and healing process.

Although it may be hard to imagine at the moment, we must remember that people do recover from sudden losses, and that we too can ultimately move through this terrible pain and begin to heal.

It helps to bear in mind that emotional pain isn’t constant, and that we don’t have to grieve forever. We will love forever, whether our loved ones are with us in body or not, but we do not need to grieve to honour that love. We can just love.

There are several important, possibly universal, ways to help oneself heal:

Love yourself and take special care of yourself through your grief.

Do your mourning now. Being strong and brave is important, but never miss an opportunity to cry. That is not self-indulgent, but simply sensible and honest in dealing with your emotions.

Expressing your feelings will help you heal, as feelings expressed disappear. Feelings repressed don’t. So give vent to your feelings.

Get support from other people — counselors and support groups like widow’s groups, bereavement groups, compassionate friends, or suicide survivors. You may find them through a hospice, your church, or a community or social service agency.

You will not only help yourself, but you may also help another and that can be a great source of strength, joy and recovery.

And, most of all, trust that the person you loved and lost would want you to recover from losing them, and would want you to remember and honour them by living a fulfilling life.

Guilt and Regret in Prolonged Illness

Each death is difficult — but in its own way. Sudden deaths leave survivors feeling shocked and vulnerable, but death after a long illness can still leave survivors feeling numbed and exhausted.

Survivors of any death still grieve. When death follows a long illness, that grief can be evident in feelings of guilt and regret that may arise from the illness experience itself.

Two issues may develop. First, during the course of a long illness, there are many questions to decide. Should we do this course of chemotherapy? Should we go for more treatments? Are we at a point that hospice care would be helpful? After the death, we may review those decisions, constantly rethinking them, asking “Did I do what was best?”

Marla wonders about such things. Her husband, George, was ill for a long time with cancer. In the end, he decided to forego a last treatment of chemotherapy. Marla questions continually whether his decision was correct. She also wonders why they were so late in summoning hospice. Once they came, he seemed to be more comfortable. Marla regrets that she did not call hospice earlier.

There is another issue, too. Care-giving is very difficult. It is difficult for family and friends. It is even tough for the person who is receiving care. Once independent, he or she is now faced with the humiliating position of having others assist with the most intimate tasks. In such situations, anger easily flares, tempers can be lost, and people can say things that they later regret. And again, after the death, these memories can haunt us.

Reviewing all these events is part of the grieving process. But, we also need to acknowledge that things always look different in hindsight, removed from all the pressures that led us to act the way we did.

Acknowledging this fact is the first step in dealing with your feelings. But other things may be helpful as well. If these issues are really troubling, it is helpful to talk them over with a counselor or in a support group. Reviewing the illness and reminding ourselves of all the situations that led us to act the way we did can reassure us that faced with the same situations, with similar information and choices, we would be unlikely to act differently. Exploring our decisions and behaviors with others who understand can reassure us of the human limits to our power and patience.

If the feeling of guilt is strong there may be other ways to help. Sometimes writing to the person who died or talking to an empty chair at the cemetery can give us needed opportunities to ask, to receive, and to offer forgiveness. Our own rituals and beliefs can be paths to that forgiveness as well.

All of these actions may affirm a critical point as we struggle with grief. Under all the stress of grief, illness and caregiving, we did, after all, the best we could.

Music for grief

Pictures say a thousand words, but music shows a thousand pictures…

Music can help us cope with grief and many people will have their preferred music for these times. Following are links to music on YouTube that some people might find therapeutic when grieving. Listed first (under A) is music that might be most appropriate when the grief intensity is extreme.

A. (ordered by composer date of birth)

  1. Johann Pachelbel (1653 – 1706)
    Canon in D
  2. George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759)
    Suite No. 7, g minor, HWV 432
  3. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)
    Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846
  4. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
    Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor II Adagio un poco mosso
  5. Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)
    Moment Musicaux No. 3
    Ave Maria, S. 558/12
  6. Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 49)
    Prelude “Raindrop” in D flat Major, Op.28, No.15
  7. Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)
    Siegfried’s Funeral March
  8. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 93)
    Hymn of the Cherubim
  9. Ovidio De Ferrari (?Year born. He’s still alive.)
    Ara (Invited Composer #1)

B. (ordered by composer date of birth)

  1. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)
    Prelude No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 847
  2. Wolfgang Mozart (1756 – 91)
    Piano Concerto no 21, 2nd movement
    Sonata No. 12 in F major, 2nd Movement
  3. Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 49)
    Nocturne Op. 9, No. 1
    Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2
    “Aeolian Harp” Étude Op. 25, No. 1
  4. Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)
    Love Dream (Liebestraum No. 3)
  5. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 93)
    June, Barcarolle Op. 37, no. 6
    Swan Lake, Op. 20: 1
  6. Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943)
    Moment Musicaux in E minor, No. 4
  7. Vangelis (1943 – )
  8. Rolf Løvland (1945 – )
    You Raise Me Up (first performed at the funeral of his mother), performed here by Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

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