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Help in mourning

The first help in mourning is when a person learns about the death of someone close to them. This raises the question of how it happened. We must be prepared to respond to them and to the reactions associated with experiencing loss. Those who help must be aware of their attitudes towards loss. People who are unaware of their own feelings,  can hinder the full experience of mourning, or can block it or lead to its interruption.

Attitudes such as denying or avoiding talking about the reality of death are associated with a great deal of fear in us and do not allow for effective help and support. We may observe that in many families the problem of grief is solved by itself. Mutual  help enables us to survive the difficult moment of losing a loved one. However, there are also many families who cannot bear the loss and need professional help. Professional help is supposed to make it easier for a person to live through mourning followed by a recovery. The therapist or helper should provide such support in order to make mourning a part of the person’s conscious experience. A person should be approached with an attitude of understanding and empathy. There is a possibility of professional burnout for helpers, because being constantly with dying people and families in mourning has a strong influence on spiritual, mental and physical exhaustion. The signs of this phenomenon are: loss of willingness to act, drop of motivation, lack of perspectives and loss of joy of life.

Looking at the literature on support in mourning we can identify ten principles:

1) You should help the person in mourning by encouraging them to talk about the circumstances of death and funeral. The helper should listen without interrupting or forcing.

2) The person should be supported in accepting and experiencing pain after the loss of a loved one, in expressing problematic feelings such as anger, guilt, anxiety, helplessness. It is important to pay attention to anger, if a person feels such anger, it is important to help to release it so that it is not addressed to others while the target is a deceased. If you ask directly about the anger, the person can deny it. It is advisable to ask them what they miss and what they disagree with. You should ask if the person has suicidal thoughts that are the result of the need to be with the deceased.

3) You should help to learn to live without the departed by analyzing the roles the deceased played, the decisions they made. After the death of a loved one, it is common for others to adopt some of these roles.

4) The person should be helped in emotional distancing, which does not mean forgetting the deceased.

5) By using your own authority, you must ensure that it takes time to experience mourning and sadness. It is also important to inform that there may be moments when these emotions become more intense.

6) Using the authority, the doctor or therapist should ensure that different emotions, are normal.

7) The person should be helped to accept the uniqueness of the mouring emphasizing that it is the one and only process.

8) It is necessary to ensure the availability of support from oneself and others.

9) You should ask the person how they have dealt with difficult situations in the past, before the death of a loved one, as well as how they have been affected by various stimulants, such as cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. The person in mourning should be informed that the stimulants increase emotions and do not allow him/her to recover.

10) This principle is a continuation of principle 9, the task of the doctor is to identify the problem. The doctor should obtain information from the person whether the current loss is similar to the one experienced in the past.

Another possibility to provide aid is a Self-Help Group. In this group, there are equal participants, whose aim is to help and support each other in dealing with their own problems, improving their psychological functioning and making their own actions more effective. The main source of this help is the effort, skills and knowledge of people from the real-life experience. Working in such a group is most often based on help provided by people with similar problems. In a mourning support group, this problem is loss and its experience. All empirical research indicates high effectiveness of such meetings in dealing with difficult situations. The aim of the Self Help Group is to provide support and assistance in surviving a loss.

And the specific objective is:

– to realize the need to experience and express emotions connected with the death of a loved one as a natural consequence of a difficult life situation,

– to enable the expression of these emotions by creating an atmosphere of mutual trust and acceptance within the group,

– to experience a sense of togetherness and, as a result, to acquire a belief in the similarity of experiences with other people,

– to enable them to adapt again to their surroundings, to say goodbye to the deceased and to renew their strength and engage them in further life events,

– Improvement of mental health , adaptation to difficult life situations, gaining the ability to communicate feelings together with the possibility of releasing strong emotions.

Parents who have lost their children have also left a few clues that can help us to understand how they feel and what they are going through:

1) I wish my child had not died. I wish I had it back;

2) I wish you wouldn’t be afraid to say my child’s name. My child existed and was very important to me. I need to hear that it was important to you too;

3) If I cry or react emotionally when you talk about my child, I want you to know that it is not, because you are hurting me. I feel that you remember; I feel your concern! The death of my child is the cause of my tears. You talk to me about my child, you let me share my sorrow. Thank you for that;

4) I would like you not to “kill” my child again by removing his pictures, drawings, memorabilia from your house;

5) Being a grieving parent is not contagious, so I wish you wouldn’t avoid me. I need you now more than ever;

6) I need some variety, I want to hear from you, but I want you to listen to me too. I can be sad. I can cry, but I want you to let me talk about my child; that’s my favorite subject;

7) I know that you often think and pray for me. I know that the death of my child hurts you too. I would like to know about it: tell me on the phone, write a letter or hug me;

8) I don’t want you to expect my grief to end in six months. The first months are especially traumatic for me; however, I would like you to understand that my grief will have no end. I will suffer the death of my child until the last day of my life;

9) I really try to “heal”, but I would like you to understand that I will never be fully healed. I will always miss my child and be full of regret that he is already dead;

10) I wish you wouldn’t expect me to “not think about that” or to “be happy”. I will not meet any of these expectations for a long time;

11) I wouldn’t want you to treat me like I want mercy, but I would like you to let me be sad. It must hurt before I “heal” myself;

12) I would like you to understand that my life has been ruined . I know it is depressing to be close to me when I feel like this. Please be patient with me as I am;

13) When I say, “I’m fine”, I want you to understand that “I’m NOT GOOD” and every day is a struggle with the death of my child;

14) I would like you to know that all my mourning reactions are normal. You can expect depression, anger, an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and sadness. So please forgive me that sometimes I am quiet and withdrawn, and sometimes I get annoyed and act eccentrically;

15) I understand your advice to “live day after day” . But now, the day is too much and too fast for me;

16) Offer to come with me to the cemetery from time to time, to light a lamp, to stay silence for a moment. Not too often, just sometimes. Let me know that you remember;

17) Don’t say: you are young, you will have more children. Perhaps I will be able to have children in the future, but first I must mourn the one who has gone away. And no other child can replace it.

18) Most importantly, remember my child sometimes. Do not pretend that it did not exist. Words hurt less than silence.

  1. Zob.: http://www.hospicja.pl/opieka_psych/article/275/5026.html, 17.07.2007.
  2. Zob.: B. Jagas, Uwolnić od bólu i samotności, w: Magazyn Medyczny, 1997 nr 12. s. 40 – 41.
  3. Por.: M. Rogiewicz, Krzysztof Buczkowski, Dorosły pacjent w żałobie po śmierci bliskiej osoby – rola lekarza rodzinnego, w: Polska Medycyna Paliatywna, 2006, tom 5, nr 1, http://www.pmp.viamedica.pl
  4. Zob.: D. Krzyżanowski, O. Różańska, A. Chibicka, E. Mess, System wsparcia dla osieroconych – projekt prowadzenia grupy wsparcia, w: Onkolog 2005, tom 8, nr 3, s. 131-133.
  5. Zob.: http://www.dlaczego.org.pl/tekstystrata.htm, 30.07.2007.