More Than a Feeling

By Kenneth J. Doka, PhD, Hospice Foundation of America

When speaking of grief, we often speak of the feelings that we can experience in grief- feelings like anger, sadness, loneliness, guilt, or even relief. Yet, while feelings are often part of the grief voyage, feelings are not the only way we grieve.

Grief can affect us at every level. For some of us, the experience of grief is very physical. Our bodies hurt. We may experience all sorts of pains and aches. Our stomachs may seem perpetually upset. We may find it difficult to sleep or we may feel tired and sleepy all the time. Our energy levels may be low and we may feel physically drained.

Grief also influences the ways we think. We may find it difficult to focus or concentrate. We may seem forgetful-going downstairs, for example, only to forget why once we arrive. We may constantly think about our loss-rehashing painful details in our minds.

The fact that we may not think clearly urges caution. This is not the time, when it can be helped, to make big decisions on whether to move or change positions. If we do have to make these decisions, it may be useful to discuss them with those whose counsel we trust.

Our behaviors also may be different. We may find ourselves less patient or more prone to anger. Others of us may be more lethargic and apathetic. We may withdraw- seeking time alone. Or, we may behave in another way, constantly seeking the activity and company of others as a way to divert our grief.

Even our behavior in grief may vary. Some of us may avoid reminders of the person who died. It may simply be too painful to view photographs or listen to songs that remind us of the person. Others of us may seek these reminders and find the memories they evoke comforting.

Grief even may affect us spiritually. Some of us may find great strength in our beliefs. They are what sustain us as we struggle with our loss and grief. We may find our spirituality deepen-attending worship, praying, or reading scripture-even more frequently than we did in the past.

Others of us may find our spirituality threatened. We may struggle with anger and doubt. We may be confused over why the person suffered so and why we seem to suffer so as well. We may find it difficult to connect with our beliefs and find little comfort at this time in our faith.

These are all ways that we may journey with grief. There is no right or wrong way to experience grief. Our experience of grief is what it is. It comes from who we are.

We cannot compare our loss to others nor can we compare our responses to the responses of others. Our differing experience of grief has little to do with how much we loved or cared about the person who died.

Each of us is different. So it makes sense that our experience of grief is different as well. Some of us, for example, will experience grief in vivid colors. With others of us, the experience of grief will be more muted-more in subdued pastels.

By Kenneth Doka. Kenneth J. Doka, PhD, MDiv, is Senior Consultant to Hospice Foundation of America and Professor of Gerontology at the College of New Rochelle in New York.

©2008 Hospice Foundation of America. All Rights Reserved


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