We all know someone who has passed away, and we’ve all comforted someone who is grieving. Our first experience with death stays with us. Perhaps a grandparent or other older relative passed away. We might notice someone wearing a ribbon or read an obituary that asks us to offer condolences. As a therapist, I’ve run Bereavement Groups. I have sat and talked with children about losing a parent or sibling and with adults trying to cope with their grief. In my current practice I marvel at the resilience of my clients as they continue on: Through suicides, illnesses and accidents.
I received my newest copy of the Psychotherapy Networker a few weeks ago and was interested in the cover article about the “New Grief”. However, experiencing this type of grief personally in my life had me reading this through different sets of eyes; one as a therapist and the other as a family member.
Helping a client through the grieving process has never been easy, and as modern medicine changes, this New Grief came about. No longer do we get diagnosed with a terminal illness and then pass away. Now, with this New Grief, we go through surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, remission… but our sense of mortality and appreciation of life is forever changed. Before it was Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ process of death and dying. She described the five stages we all experience to get to acceptance (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). With the New Grief, the first stage is the crisis (the bad news of the diagnosis), that turns into family unity, followed by the upheaval of treatment and all the while trying to make the best use of the gift of time. Death is no longer sudden but a process, and grief is experienced differently.
I’ve talked with so many people about the shock of bad news (the crisis). I’ve listened and supported. I’ve thought I understood. But then I got the call from a close family member to tell me her devastating news and I understood on a whole new level. I know what it is like to experience the crisis and cry. I know what it is like to experience a loved one receiving treatment that feels worse than the diagnosis itself. And I know what it is like to offer love and support and be open to receive it back. Is this New Grief an easier grief? Is any grief easy? Many, many people, unfortunately, experience this New Grief every day. What we take away from this gift of time is what matters most.