Von was about my fourth patient in as many months who was struggling to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.
She was in her late 60s and her husband, who had been considerably older than her, had been ill for many months with severe heart failure, so his death hadn’t been a shock. Nonetheless, six months down the track, poor Von could not understand why she still felt so lost and unable to discuss him without dissolving into tears.
Compounding her distress was the fact she felt she should be “getting over it” by now and “moving on”. She was making people feel uncomfortable when she got emotional, so she simply avoided those triggering conversations, even with her children.
It was a familiar story among my recent run of older patients – two who’d lost husbands, one a sister and another a brother. There was a consistent theme of searching for guidance on how to manage mourning – after the death, after the funeral, after all the friends and relatives have resumed their often busy, and often unchanged, lives.
They’d all presented thinking there must be something wrong with them for continuing to feel this grief past what they felt was “normal”, which in their minds was maybe a couple of months.
It’s been almost 50 years since Kubler-Ross gave us the classic phases of grieving. There is now a wealth of resources available that people can access when confronting mortality – either their own or that of someone close to them. And between advanced care directives, palliative care and the euthanasia debate I believe, as a society, we are getting a lot better about talking about death and dying.
But maybe we fall a little short when it comes to managing the longer-term grief.
Maybe it’s our tendency, in this digital age, to focus on the immediate and our consequently short attention span that expects everyone to always be looking to the future rather than “wasting time” on the past.
Maybe it’s our modern Australian culture that has left us without any rituals beyond that of the funeral. Historically, rituals tended to give stage gates for grief or, at the very least, a public acknowledgement of a realistic time-frame that it might take until that grief might lessen.
– Linda Calabresi
Read more: Grief Cannot, and Should Not, Be Rushed