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About the Author
Mary Mac is a bereavement specialist and award-winning author, speaker, executive grief coach, consultant and trainer. With several published works, as well as websites, blogs, and articles to her credit, she has received numerous awards including Best New Directory of the Year, First Edition for The National Directory of Bereavement Support Groups and Services, New York State Senate Legislative Resolution for her work with survivors of homicide victims, The Healing Hand award for her dedicated work on behalf of grieving children, her undergraduate alma mater's highest award to distinguished alumni, and is also the creator of The Foundation for Grieving Children, Inc. (www.F4GC.com).
She holds a Bachelor's degree from the University of Scranton and an MBA from Fordham University. She has spoken at numerous conferences and has been featured in various television, radio and print media. Recently she authored and published her first children's book, Iggy the Train Cat, fulfilling a life-long dream.
Mary makes her home in the Orlando, Florida area. Visit www.MaryMcCambridge.com.
Read an Excerpt
Welcome, my new friend,
Allow me to extend to you my deepest sympathy. Experiencing a loved one's death is never easy because the relationship you shared was unique - it was not the same with any other person. And for that reason, the emotions and pain you now feel can be overwhelming.
You hurt so much because you loved so deeply. One moment you may feel stable, the next inconsolable. These varied emotions are something you may never have experienced before and these feelings of being somewhat "out of control" can be scary.
Depending on how you learned of your loved one's death, the way they died and if you were able to say goodbye, all have an impact on how you grieve. Additionally, there is no "right" way to grieve. Most of us do not know how we will cope until we confront grief for the first time.
There are many things you cannot change but some things you can. And educating yourself to what may lie ahead will definitely alleviate some unnecessary pain.
While a map gives you directions, it will not be able to steer you clear of every roadblock along the way. Sometimes a flat tire stalls your progress, sometimes an unexpected detour in the road for construction. You learn to deal with these challenges, when you are confronted with them, the best way you know how.
And so it is with grief. You will not be able to anticipate your reaction to events down the road, but you will deal with it, not feel guilty for your reaction and keep moving forward. Why• Because you have little choice. You survived your loved one. And as much as you may feel how unfair that is, it's the way it is.
So let us begin this new journey together to learn how to make the pain more bearable. Let us learn specific coping techniques from those who have walked this walk before us. Let us remember and celebrate all the wonderful times we shared with our loved one. And let us care for ourselves as we take these steps forward.
Wishing you abundant blessings and much comfort as you come to understand your grieving heart.
Printed with Permission. All Rights Reserved. © 2001 Mary M. McCambridge
Table of ContentsDedication Page
Welcome, my new friend...
1. Myths Behind the Grieving Process
2. Stages of Grief
3. Manifestations of Grief
a. Emotional Challenges
b. Physical Challenges
c. Social Challenges
d. Intellectual Challenges
e. Spiritual Challenges
f. Financial Challenges
4. Effects of Grief on Marriage
5. Effects of Grief on Children
6. Relationships with Family, Friends and Business Colleagues
7. Holidays, Anniversaries and Special Occasions
8. Honoring Your Loved One
9. A Final Note
10. Where to Find Help: Organizations for Those Grieving a Loved One's Death
11. Selected Bibliography
Myths Behind the Grieving Process
Most people, especially those of us who are experiencing their first deathloss, have preconceived ideas about the grieving process, usually rooted from others' experiences we've witnessed. Unless we've been exposed to a book such as this, chances are we have little knowledge, nor ever wanted any knowledge, before we actually had to deal with the death of someone close.
Logically, we expect that at some time in our life we will bury someone before we ourselves die. And, if we loved them, that loss will hurt - and hurt deeply.
If this is your first deathloss, you need to understand that no one else's previous experience with grief will be exactly the same grief journey you experience. And, if you have endured a deathloss in the past, this particular deathloss may not be anything like your previous experience. This is a completely different individual and your relationship with them has been different from the relationship you had with the individual who previously died.
Consequently, we begin by explaining what grief is not because you may have heard many stories about what you will feel, what you will encounter, how people will treat you and many other sordid details, which may or may not be true for you. They may have been true for that other person, but may not be true for you.
Therefore, begin this experience with an open mind.
What are the myths surrounding the grieving process?
1. Everyone grieves in exactly the same way. If this were true, there would be only one book or one tape on the grieving process and every person would follow a set of directions. It would be similar to an instruction manual that would tell you how to get from point A to point B and this was the exact direction and exact manner, and there was no deviation whatsoever.
Nothing is further from the truth. Every one of us deals with death in a different way. Your reaction may be completely different from your mother, sister or son's experience.
How you grieve depends on a number of things:
the way you learned to cope with stress in your life before this death.
the quality of the relationship you had with the person who was killed or died.
the circumstances under which they died.
the practice of your faith and ethnic customs.
the emotional support you receive from your family and friends while you are going through the grieving process.
2. We handle all deathlosses in the same way. Again, untrue. You respond to each deathloss during your life based upon many things:
whether this is your first deathloss or you've experienced more than your share. Many of us can recall the incapacitation and shock we felt at our first serious deathloss.
how mature you are when your loved one died. Experiencing a loved one's death when you are a child will be much different when you are in your 40's.
how the person died. You will deal with police and district attorneys when a homicide occurs, whereas a natural death allows you to grieve without outside interruption.
the relationship you had with them. You will grieve the death of a child quite differently than a business colleague.
the proximity of their physical body to you when they died. A loved one killed in a car accident where you were a surviving passenger will feel quite different than your 90 year-old grandfather's death in another state.
the quality of the relationship you had with them. If you had strained relations with a family member, perhaps their death will not affect you nearly as much as a neighbor with whom you socialized on a regular basis. Just because you were related to an individual doesn't mean the grief will be greater.
the geographical distance between the two of you. Chances are you will grieve more deeply for a beloved grandparent, who lived in your home since you were a child, than one who lives 3,000 miles away, with whom you had little contact throughout your lifetime.
3. Parents are supposed to die first. When a child dies or is killed, no matter whether that child was one or fifty one, parents and grandparents struggle with the unnatural order of their death. All the hopes and dreams they had for their children are gone.
Parents endure great sadness knowing a child who dies young will not experience their sweet sixteen or graduation. They won't walk them down the aisle at their wedding, or see grandchildren from them. They lose their future.
When we deal with the loss of a parent, we lose our past.
Although we know our parents will leave us at some point, we never really are ready for their death. They provide a sense of family, a sense of security. We now become the senior generation of our family structure.
4. The grieving process is completed in a few months. And quite frankly, to some business managers, that could be a few days. But the reality is, griefwork can take upwards of 18 24 months for a natural death. For survivors whose loved ones have died in an accident, by sudden death, homicide, vehicular homicide or suicide, those timeframes can be prolonged.
Please note that there is no set timeframe; everyone's timeframe is different and it depends on the relationship you had with that person. If you had a superficial relationship, you will not, of course, need to grieve to the same extent as you would for someone whom you loved more deeply. (And chances are you wouldn't be reading this book if you have only a superficial deathloss.)
This also does not mean you grieve with the same intensity throughout this entire time. As time moves on, the grief softens, may come back intensely for shorter periods of time and then softens again. This is why many bereaved individuals call grief a roller coaster of emotions because they are not consistent.
5. If I get rid of everything that reminds me of my loved one, somehow this process will be easier. Throwing away or giving away the possessions of a loved one immediately after the funeral or shortly thereafter is not a wise move. At this stage, you are still numb and not thinking clearly. Leave these decisions until you have had an opportunity to get more control over your emotions and are able to make clearer decisions about what you would like to keep and how you would like to distribute part of their belongings.
Please do not let others make these decisions for you. This is something you need to do in your own time, in your own privacy, when you feel more stable.
Some family members actually think if they rid the room of all pictures and memorabilia, somehow you won't be as upset. They are trying to make us feel better. They want to do what is best for us. But in that process, often times, they are really doing what is better for them - what makes them more comfortable.
Understand that out-of-sight does not mean out-of-mind. Belongings are very precious possessions. Having pictures out may be extremely cathartic for you. It is not uncommon to stand there and talk to the picture when you need to talk to your loved one. It's not uncommon at all. Having his belongings still in the closet so that you can smell how he smelled, and embracing the clothing will help to comfort you.
Therefore, do not do anything with your loved one's belongings until after everyone has gone home from the funeral. Don't wash any piece of clothing or give anything away until you are stronger and thinking more clearly.
Individuals who are not going through the grieving process often do not understand any of these things. And, before you had your first significant deathloss, neither did you. Take what they do for you as a sincere gesture, but make up your mind that you will take charge of the possessions at your own pace.
If you feel it is too difficult to have pictures or other belongings surrounding you, then safely store them away, but don't get rid of them. You will then have the option later to bring them back out or store them away permanently.
6. Grief will never pop back into my life once I feel stronger. This is definitely not true because you will experience their birthday and the anniversary of their death. As time moves along, different milestones occur. If you lost your spouse at a young age, your child will graduate and, as you sit at the ceremony with melancholy feelings, you might think, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if John were here to see this. He would have been so proud of our son." Or if your mother died when you were a child, you might imagine her sitting next to your father at your wedding ceremony. Perhaps you decide to finally visit The Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC and you are struck by the overwhelming emotion you feel as you read your brother's name for the first time.
7. I can put my grief on hold until later. There is no doubt that many survivors, especially those with busy lives, have successfully, albeit temporarily, put their grief "on hold." But the key word here is temporarily. What we suppress only comes back to haunt us at some future time in our lives. Sadly, it usually occurs when we either experience another deathloss, or when some other chaotic situation happens which tilts our lives out of balance.
Do not ignore your grief as if it will go away. Although facing the pain and experience is by no means easy, it is far healthier than trying to outrun your emotions by working more, doing more or escaping into an addictive behavior, lifestyle or relationship.
If you've experienced the anticipatory death of a loved one through illness versus a sudden death or, perhaps, the murder of a loved one, you will know that they are two totally different experiences. Getting to the realization or "acceptance" stage will take different amounts of time and energy.
Additionally, those who have experienced a murder of a loved one will be the first to defend themselves from "accepting" such a death. They may "acknowledge" that the murder has occurred, accept their life now, but "accepting" how the person died is incomprehensible. Varying situations, such as these, all contribute to how you move through these rather vague "stages."
Let us now look at the flow of the grieving process, recognizing that you may bypass some stages for a time and dwell longer in others. You may work your way through one or two of the stages only to revisit an earlier stage sometime in the future.
Many people experience this. Don't be alarmed if you feel like you are not making progress. Remember, any form of stability, from one hour to the next or one day to the next, is progress. And that includes such things, which you may have considered minor in the past, like washing dishes or doing laundry. If you have the strength and will to do something today, which you didn't yesterday, you are making progress.
What People are Saying About This
"This sensitive, yet practical book goes some way to answering the many agonising questions posed by the bereft and suggests many strategies that may bring comfort during the grieving process.
Mary is an American bereavement specialist who has written several books on the many aspects of death and loss. She is quick to point out the 'uniqueness' of grief to each individual so affected and stresses that there is no normal time span and no set time frame for recovery. She goes into the well-documented stages of grief - shock, denial, despair, renewal, etc. - with great insight and compassion, yet always bringing some positive ideas to help during these stages.
The chapter on children's grief is especially illuminating, as is the section dealing with those agonising anniversaries of Christmas, Birthdays, etc. She discusses the effects of grief on marriage and also how financial worries need to be addressed during mourning. Mary ventures into the spiritual area of sorrow and speaks most movingly of how we try to make "bargains" with God.
This book has a comprehensive section on where to find help, which refers to the USA. However, I feel that similar institutions do exist in the UK and the book list is also very extensive. In conclusion, I feel that this is a useful and thoughtful book with a great deal of genuine understanding of grief and much compassion for those who grieve." --E. B. Daniels The Compassionate Friends (United Kingdom)
"Very well done informative, supportive. I highly recommend this book to all survivors and especially to those dedicated professionals in this field." --M. Regina Asaro, MS, RN Psychiatric Nurse/Consultant Co-Author, The Military Widow