Thursday, July 02, 2009

Learning about bereavement

Last night, a group of us had a discussion around the topic of bereavement and grief. It transpired that several of us had lost our fathers. The different circumstances of each of our lives meant that we each handled it very differently.

Not all the fathers in question had died, either.

One woman's father had been in prison for a time. She doesn't know why. Her parents refuse to discuss it, saying that he has paid the price for what he did and that it is a closed chapter in his life. While he was in prison, the family had to cope with the fact of his absence and with the stigma of being the family of a convict.

One young Latvian woman's father was abducted ('stolen' is the word she used) nine years ago. The family hasn't seen him since, but they all believe that he is alive and will be restored to him. I'm not sure who 'stole' him. Her English gave out on her. She initially wanted to use the term 'military', but then said that that wasn't quite right. She spoke without bitterness and with quiet certainty. Somehow, I think that kind of loss may be worse than death, because there can never be closure... unless, of course, she is right and he does come home one day.

One guy's Dad died last year after a long illness. Because he has been struggling with the debilitating impact of unemployment on his life for two years, he has felt unable to deal with the loss, and has shelved it for now. He did recently get a job, but was forced to quit after just one week, when depression set in. Granted the job was a very stressful and emotionally draining one, but I wonder to what extent the removal of the unemployment worries meant that the grief floodgates were finally - and very briefly - able to open.

My own Dad died when I was in my thirties and married with children of my own. In a way, I lost him long, long before he died. I hadn't seen him for 7 years at the time of his death, and prior to that, I had probably spent 6 months in his company over the space of 30 years. He chose not to feature in our lives. We spoke on the phone 3 times a year: his birthday, my birthday and Fathers' Day. Because I barely knew him, I was surprised to find myself grieving his loss, I was also deeply, deeply hurt that no mention was made of my sister and me at the funeral. The officiator hadn't even been told of our existence and half the mourners didn't know who we were. They passed us by completely in the receiving line, as if our grief didn't matter... which only made it worse.

My husband's doting father died when he was nineteen and busy with his basic military training. He was just getting to know his Dad as a man, and the loss was keen. Because he never saw the body, and because his Dad was a notorious prankster (how many church elders have you met who greet people with one of those buzzer things concealed in their hands?), it was years before my husband was able to accept that his Dad wasn't coming back. That he wasn't going to bounce in one day and declare "Got you!" For years, he held on to possessions of his father's. Getting rid of them would be tantamount to admitting he was gone, and it was a long time before he felt ready to do that.

We each deal with things in our own way. One way is not more valid than another.


Garry Platt said...

Flowing from this discussion Karyn did you or do you find any legitimacy in the The Kübler-Ross grief cycle:

The upsycho said...

@Garry I do, to an extent, and not just in relation to loss either. I recognise those phases in response to many setbacks and figurative body blows. I had something of a breakdown just over a year ago, and the recovery (still ongoing) followed similar lines. However, I don't think that it's linear, or that it always moves forward. Much as I don't think we obediently follow the Kolb learning cycle, I suppose.

Garry Platt said...

Apparently it's all pop psychology:

The upsycho said...

@Garry I can quite believe that. We have this tendency to see a model which kinda, sorta makes sense on some gut level and then we adhere to it come hell or high water, with little regard for whether or not it is based on sound theory.

Hmmm. Where have we had that discussion before?

I like this part of the quote Clive uses from the original post:

"First of all, Kübler-Ross herself stated that people do not necessarily go through all of the stages, and if they do, it can be in any order. Indeed, people can experience a whole range of emotions at different times during grief."

Which is more or less what I said.

We need to be careful of misapplying models. There is that old adage about how when all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

Garry Platt said...

I think that anybody who believes a model of human behaviour or psychology should be right all of the time for everybody is delusional, psychology is not yet a science.

So the issues that Rob Robson’s opines that the Kubler Ross Grief Cycle is ‘debunked’ because it isn’t true for everybody all of the time is some what puerile or to use a coarser term; bullshit.

By the way, congratulations on the contract - very well deserved I am certain.