Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Five Ways We Grieve

We all grieve differently.  I have learned this from watching how my family grieves and by being privileged to share in some of my clients private moments of grief.  Grief is incredibly powerful, personal, and private.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve or to heal. (Unless your grief is destructive to you or others, which we will address.)

We all choose different paths to move through our grief.  Susan A. Berger outlines these different types of grieving in her book The Five Ways We Grieve. Through her research, Susan has found that grief is unique to a person, but that most bereaved respond in similar patterns as they work towards forming their new identity after the loss. Let me share with you Susan Berger's identity types of grief below and also show you how a family (mine) approaches grief differently, and that is okay.

The Nomad
Nomads have not yet resolved their grief.  Susan Berger says in her book that "these people have not had the support necessary to acknowledge their grief and go through all the complex yet necessary steps of the grieving process."  In some instances the Nomad could be viewed as the "unhealthy griever," making inappropriate choices or turning to harmful coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or other unhealthy behaviors.  Often times these individuals suffer from complicated grief, such as an untimely or sudden death of a loved one or ambiguous loss, when a loved one is never found or a goodbye was never able to be given. The trauma that is associated with the a loss like this can lead to grieving that is not integrated into the bereaved's new identity, hence the nomad.

I don't believe that anyone in my family fits this description of grieving.  So far it seems that my family members are actively participating in their grief process and being intentional about their grief in an effort to integrate Nora's loss into their lives. I personally could see how going down the road of the nomad would be appealing when grief is so cumbersome.       

The Memorialist
The memorialist is the griever that needs to maintain a connection to their deceased loved one through tangible tributes such as creating a scrapbook, building a statue, or tending to a garden. Emperor Shah Jahan would be a prime example of a Mermorialist.  He created the Taj Mahal in loving memory of his third wife, after she died while giving birth to their 14th child in the 1600's.  Susan Berger found this identity type to be the most commonly adopted identity for the bereaved.

Well that makes sense to me since the majority of my family members fall into the role of the memorialist from time to time.  We all find ways to create a connection with Nora through tangible tributes.  Nick and I have created a garden, Grandma Barb has memorabilia all around her house, my dad got a tattoo in honor of Nora, and my sister created a memory box.  But the biggest memorialist of all would probably be my mother, Grandma Gerry.  She scrapbooks and gardens in order to keep Nora's memory alive and integrate Nora's loss into her life.  She has big plans for a fairy-tale garden we will hear more about this coming summer.

The Normalizer
The name says it all.  The normalizer appreciates that life is finite, Susan states.  Their loss guides them in life to create what they are missing.  The normalizers often put an emphasis on the present and appreciate even more now, the importance of family and friends.  Normalizers do not shy away from talking about or addressing the loss, they put more emphasis on appreciation for life now that they know it is so fleeting.

Nick, my husband, is a normalizer.  This is not surprising.  After all he is pretty normal. He! He!  But seriously, Nick continues to tell me what he has learned about the experience of losing Nora is how much he appreciates the relationships we do have with family and friends. He has vowed to make more time for cultivating these relationships as we move forward in life, as he believes connections are what make life worth living.  He also says now more then ever, he realizes he wants to be a dad and he wants to try for another child.  Not to replace Nora, but to create what we are missing.  The joy of being a parent.

The Activist
The activist wants to make a difference now that they have increased their awareness of the limited time we have here on earth.  Susan Berger writes in her book that the activist is "...hungry for intense and varied life experiences, they are orientated primarily toward the future, striving to create meaning through the positive impact they can have on people and the world."

Yup. You guessed it.  That's me.  I have always been an activist in life in some way, shape, or form.  I think it became apparent to my mom when I would go for walks down the country road by our house at age 8 and pick up garbage in an effort to "save the planet." (That was big in the 80's.)  So, it's only natural that in my grief I would fall into that familiar role.  Using my experience to help others, either through writing, reaching out, providing support, or raising awareness and resources for people like me.  And I am doing all of that.  This is where I differ in my grief than my other family members and that is okay.  Luckily they have been supportive of my activist role when it comes to my grieving.

The Seekers
Seekers are often those who dive into philosophical inquiry about the meaning of life.  Susan Berger writes that seekers "...value connection with one another, the natural world, and the divine."  Seekers tend to find solace in spirituality as a way to integrate their grief.  

Believe it or not, yeah.  That's me too.  Now, I must proclaim, I still have no idea what I believe or if I believe.  But, if we use the definition of seekers as those who "experience their loss as a catalyst for philosophical inquiry into the meaning of life" as Susan states, then I fit that definition.  I don't believe I have relied on faith in my grief work, but I do question the 'meaning of life.'  I always have on some philosophical level, and even more so now after Nora's death.  So, in some ways, I'm a seeker.  I like that term.

So there they are.  The Five Ways We Grieve. Maybe you only have characteristics of a one or maybe you fit into many identity types as my sister believes she does. It doesn't really matter.  What does matter is that it's important to know how you grieve, as well as how others grieve in order to honor each other's grief process.                    

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