In today’s society, we have become numb to the idea of death and dying by inexhaustible media exposure of it in movies, video games, and even the evening news. It’s this constant exposure that has made us feel that death is something that happens “out there”—to other people until losing someone touches us personally. Grief, shock, and sadness suddenly become real and then we become unsure of how to feel or how we should feel.
When we personally experience death, it is no longer a character in a movie or a game but someone we knew and loved and it’s then, more important than ever, to remember that there is no right or wrong way to express grief. All too often we are expected to keep our grief neatly bundled to a three-day turnaround before we have to go back to work and then we’re expected to behave as if everything is back to normal and we’re fine.
Coping with the loss of a loved one is a personal journey that’s different for everyone, and yet in our Western culture, there seems to be an unspoken set of rules and standards as to how we should feel and for how long we should feel it. Everyone reacts differently to grief and a lot of it depends on what your relationship was with the person and the cultural and familial expectations you grew up with. Grief is a universal feeling that cuts across all ages, languages, and borders and are one of the deepest human emotions we can experience next to love.
In 1981, the Two-Track Model of Bereavement was created by Simon Shimshon Rubin, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Haifa in Israel. Rubin is a psychotherapist, therapy supervisor, and consultant whose writings on loss and bereavement span more than than 30 years. The model examines the long-term effects of bereavement by measuring how well the person is adapting to the loss of a significant person in their life and has provided a deeper focus on the grieving process.
The main objective of the Two-Track Model of Bereavement is for the individual to “manage and live in the reality in which the deceased is absent” as well as returning to normal biological functioning. The significance of the closeness between the bereaved and the deceased is important to the functioning of grief. This focuses on anxiety, depression, somatic concerns, traumatic responses, familial relationships, interpersonal relationships, self-esteem, meaning structure, work, and investment in life tasks. This could determine the severity of the mourning and grief the bereaved will endure.
The second track of the model shows how grief mainly focuses on how the bereaved was connected to the deceased and on what level of closeness was shared. The stronger the relationship to the deceased is will lead to a greater evaluation of the relationship. Any memory could be a trigger for the bereaved, and so the way the bereaved chooses to remember their loved ones, and how the bereaved integrate the memory of their loved ones into their daily lives will determine how the length of the grieving process.
Grief is an emotion that demands to be expressed. Maybe not right now and maybe not six months from now, but there will be a time when something will remind you—most likely it will be the smallest, most inconsequential thing that will refreshen the memory of your loss, and when it happens, don’t hold back what your feeling. If you don’t release what’s in your head and your heart, the grief you keep locked up will end up hurting you.
Ancient cultures worldwide honored death as part of the life cycle. They expressed grief by keening, talking, storytelling, and sharing memories. Some people feel that it’s taboo to mention the person who has passed away for fear of bringing up sadness but people who’ve experienced loss did not lose any memories of their loved one, so talking about the person and sharing memories is a healthy way to process and move forward. Sharing stories and even laughing at some of the memories of the people we lost is not disrespectful but perhaps one of the best ways we can honor their lives and keep their memory going. Allowing ourselves to express how we feel in whatever ways we need is imperative whether it’s at the moment of the loss or a year or two down the road.
Every one of us will one day experience the loss of someone we know. And when that time comes, the way we deal with grief should be up to the individual, not up to what is dictated by our cultural norms and in whatever ways that loss is expressed, there is no room for judgment—of yourself or the person experiencing the loss. For some people, a simple acknowledgment is all that’s needed. For others, it’s a little bit more, but however it is for you or someone you know, it’s important to remember to process grief in a healthy way. Work through the grief process in whatever way works best for you, whether it is through counseling, art, meditation, or even exercise. Try them all and see what works best for you.
One of the most important things you can do is not to keep your feelings hidden or to deny them. Be open to how you feel and don’t think that you shouldn’t feel a certain way if it doesn’t fit in with everyone else’s timeframes, or perhaps even your own. There will come a time when that grief will turn to bereavement and finally to mourning, and as the feelings of loss evolve, the best way to work them all is to be forgiving and gentle with yourself or with the person you know who is going through it.