A giving attitude and shows of affection are helpful to getting through and accompanying others in their mourning.
Advisor Juan Sebastian Acosta – Psychologist
No instruction manual or perfect phrases. Whether the deceased is one’s own or someone close, mourning is a personal situation. Nobody can feel what someone else is suffering physically or emotionally. Nevertheless, there are guidelines for getting into the other person’s skin and helping the process flow in a better way. A loving embrace and an adequate amount of silence also bring consolation.
Losing your job, the end of a relationship, the step towards a new vital phase, such as elderly adult life can also unleash a process of mourning. “This is a natural reaction to the loss of a loved one, a pet, land property or a situation in which the person has felt loved, comfortable or valued,” as Coordinator of the Unit for Mourning of the San Vicente Funeral Home Juan Sebastian Acosta explains.
An experience of this type especially when the deceased is a close relative, requires a gradual adaptation and on occasions needs the help of a specialist to overcome each phase the experience brings (denial, anger, negotiation, sadness, depression and acceptance) to recuperate one’s equilibrium in this way. So, understanding that death is part of the life cycle is a fundamental step in passing the mourning process to help others recuperate from this inevitable moment.
Living each step calmly, but without stopping
Swiss Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published a book in 1969 called “On Death and Dying” in which for the first time she describes the five phases of the mourning process that are as follows:
Denial. This is a natural process after the death of a loved one; often, though, it may lead to a state of shock or emotional torpor or even cognitive torpor
Anger. The end of negotiations is associated to feelings of frustration and impotence with respect to the ability to modify the consequences of the loss. This leads to the surging of anger and the search for a factor to blame.
Negotiation. The individual here clings to hope that something will change and tries to influence the situation he is going through in some way either through religion or the promises he makes to himself.
Depression. In this stage the person begins to assume reality in a definitive way and this generates feelings of sadness and despair along with other symptoms such as social isolation or lack of motivation.
Acceptance. This is the coming of a state of calm related to the comprehension that death and other losses are natural phenomenon of human life.
When mourning comes after terminal illness, it usually evolves into a retrospective reflection about one’s own life. Listen to the mourner if he needs to be listened to.
How to face your mourning?
- Recognize the phase of the process you are in and its characteristics. It is a fact that mourning ceases to be a natural process given the false mandate of always “being well.”
- Turn for help to groups such as family, friends, neighbors or partner or in the religion you profess. Admit that the mourner may also need the accompaniment of psychologists, doctors or psychiatrists.
- Demystify common beliefs about mourning. Do not associate weakness, i.e., that one is strong if one does not cry; do not feel remorse or guilt. Every person reacts differently in the face of loss.
- Accept and face your pain; feel the right to be sad and cry.
- Avoid making decisions hurriedly like moving to another house, donating personal belongings of the deceased, selling the house, changing jobs or relocating to another city. Such reactions can be painful when the mourning process has finished.
- Be alert to symptoms that can be warning signs such as turning to alcohol, getting absorbed in work or study, somatizing pain, not eating or eating excessively. Always look for help if you feel that the situation is getting out of control.
What to say to the mourner?
- Magic words do not exist. An embrace can convey many things. Be open to listening without judging, or moral criteria or religious biases.
- Offer the other person something concrete: “Can I accompany you.” Or “Can I book an appointment with the doctor?” Or “Can I get some groceries for you, cook for you?” Or “Would you like to go out for dinner?” It is not useful to say, “If you need something, let me know.” Many people do not have the courage to ask for help.
- Ask sincerely, “How are you?” Listen to the answer. Questions that are useful include, “What do you need? How are you feeling? How did things happen? Can I be of help with something?”
- Say, “I’m so sorry.” Or “I feel your grief.” This means: “I am here for you.” Express it in the way you look at the person and your attitude.
- Leave aside clichés such as “Why are you crying so much if you were a good daughter.” Or “ He is happy in heaven.” Or “Flowers are better in Life.” One can say these things thoughtlessly and they may be imprudent.
- Conversations, even trivial ones, can reduce anxiety. It is natural to speak about the deceased to validate his story.
- Do not make decisions for the person such as not taking her to the funeral, calming her with medication, taking out the belongings of the deceased. It is better to include the person and she must be the one to decide.
See also: The importance of experiencing grief