Monday, June 02, 2008


The first of June. The year is flying past.

I love June because it signals the commencement of winter. The Australian winter is wonderful. Cool days and brilliant blue skies. I dislike June because, in this particular month, I lost two very important people: my father and my stepfather.

Funnily enough, we were discussing grief recently in the group sessions and maybe this is what started me thinking about this. Apparently, the general consensus that the period of grief should last around three months. I can't say that I'm in agreement with that, although this probably relates to the experience of grief in terms of disruption of life. It just seems so unreasonable to put a time frame on grief.

I still experience flashes of grief even though I lost my father 19 years ago, my stepfather 9 years ago. While it doesn't happen on a regular basis, it doesn't interfere with my life functioning, it still evokes powerful emotions. It just requires a trigger....a specific date, a specific chain of events, a particular smell....out of the blue, a sense of loss as keen as it was when I first experienced it. Along with it, guilt and anger. Emotions supposedly long resolved. Kuebler-Ross may have defined a stage theory of grief (denial, anger/anxiety, bargaining, depression, acceptance). I really don't believe many people stick to the plan but switch back and forth between phases.

Of course, grief isn't just related to the loss of someone. The loss can come from any number of sources: the loss of physical or emotional health, loss of independence, loss of a job, anything that is of personal significance. It can be particularly hard to deal with when unexpected or traumatic, when it involves other life changes or when lacking support.

Facing situations like this, how we choose to manage it is key. Finding an outlet for grief can be helpful. Think about talking, writing, whatever takes your fancy. Even though we might want to withdraw, avoiding isolation is important but choose company wisely. Spend time with supportive, empathic people. Eat well, exercise and simply take time to work through the loss, however long it takes.


Dreaming again said...

Three months? Are they serious?
If denial is a serious part of that grief, 3 months is reasonable.

I lost my step father in 1979. I was not allowed to grieve. He was 'only my step father'.
The fact that he'd married my mother when I was 13 months old never seemed to dawn on anyone.

The reason for the loss also is going to change the grieving process ... was the loss expected ... protracted illness accident ... or as in the case of my step father ...suicide.

In some cases the suicide comes after a long history of mental health issues ... in my step fathers, it did not. Depression was not part of his history, nor his family history. He had a sudden but severe and situational bought. It's onset just 3 months before his suicide.

In cases of cancer ...there are long protracted disease coarses that can last for years ...and there are ones that will take the lives of the patients in just months after the diagnosis ... each will bring on a separate varying grieving process.

Is the person that you lost a child or a parent? Was it a baby? A child, a teenager ... an adult child ... a friend ... an enemy (that brings on a whole set of guilt along with grief)

To set a time line of grief to me seems maudlin at best.

Then there is the grief of having a special needs child. That, is a whole nother kettle of fish ... I could blog about that! Oh wait! I do ;)

Deb said...

Touching and thoughtful advice. I believe that grieving is a very unique and personal experience - one that should NOT have a time limit.

I send you my best as you movve through this month.

Anonymous said...

Three months? I think that's unrealistic for a lot of people. Grief is such an individual thing that it's impossible to say that it should last only a certain amount of time. And for many people, three months just isn't long enough and for others, three months is more time than they seem to need. It's varies so much, depending on the individual and their relationship (good or bad) with the person that died, I think.


phd in yogurtry said...

3 months?! Yow.

I heard a piece on NPR a few mos ago on Kubler-Ross grief stages, which was formulated based on people who were they themselves dieing. The piece talked about newer research on people grieving the loss of loved ones and advocated an additional phase - yearning - the periodic episodes like you describe. For years and years.

Alison said...

That 3 month thing is interesting. When I was studying to become a psych, the general concensus was 12 months! Apparently we are all supposed to be slipping through these stages faster nowadays? Crinks, ya just can't win can ya?

The local expert at the time was a psychologist called Mal McKissock who was based in Five Dock, Sydney. He was highly respected...but obviously forgotten now!

I still use the 12 month frame with people, when I feel it's helpful, otherwise I don't bring it up.

My dad died 14 years ago and I was a mess for longer than 12 months. Complicated also by the death of my dearest friend through breast cancer exactly 1 year and 1 day after.

It's different for everyone I guess. Using a "rule of thumb" like 12 months can help to give people an "idea" (and no more) of what they (might) expect. But 3 months is just plain stupid.

We live in a culture that kind of expects that the grief period ends after the funeral and you'll be back at work straight after fighting fit and ready to go.

As psychs we are supposed to be a little bit more understanding...

Health Psych said...

Thanks everyone for some really interesting and useful comments.

I like the idea of the yearning period in particular. That makes a lot of sense to me.

One thing we all agree on is there should be no time limit.