Coping with grief

By Jerome Stuart Nichols | Life Editor
Added November 13, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Losing a loved one can bring about some incredibly strong feelings. Until I lost my grandmother, on Halloween this year, I had never experienced the full weight of grief and mourning in my adult life.

Those first few days were filled with an incredible, overwhelming sense of sadness and despair. It reminded me of the periods in my life when I suffered from depression. But it was much was worse in the way it flooded my mind and prevented me from not only enjoying life but also prevented my mind from functioning at a normal level.

As I write this, it’s been close to two weeks since my grandmother passed, and I am feeling better. I attended the memorial and tasked myself with creating her obituary, which helped me work through the initial phase of disbelief.

Now, I’m OK … mostly. I do still experience these incredible waves of sadness when I see the things of hers I kept, which have sentimental value. But overall, I have been able to break through the sadness and get back to living my life, which having demanded “Don’t be sad, it’s just my time to go,” moments before  her passing is exactly what my grandmother would have wanted.

I was lucky because for as close as I was to my grandmother, my experience with grief could have been infinitely worse. I was able to work my way through the week and let most of the sadness out during the memorial. But, not everybody has that luxury. My mother will be grieving for many weeks; she loved my grandmother more than she loves me, and that’s saying a lot.

I wanted to see what help was out there for me, as well as, what I should expect from in my grieving experience. So, I contacted Counseling and Psychological Services. CAPS is Eastern Michigan University’s counseling and psychological service center, which is located at 313 Snow Health Center. There I spoke with the director of CAPS, Dr. Lisa Lauterbach, and she helped answer many of my questions.

The first thing I wanted to know was if what I had been feeling over that past week or so is typical. She told me the sadness and fogginess are all normal. Even the waves of sadness, as long as they didn’t interfere with my function, were normal, as well.

I then wanted to know how long grieving should last. I worried that two weeks might be too long, but she soothed those fears.

“The length of time that grief will last will vary,” she said.

She then explained there are many factors that can influence the duration of the grieving process, including how close you were to the deceased person and the suddenness of the loss. She explained everyone will deal with it in his or her own time and “I don’t want to set some sort of time limit.”

Since I tend to find clinical counseling to be very uncomfortable, I asked if it was a good idea to handle my feelings on my own or if I should seek counseling immediately. She said, “There are many things to consider. We often deal with grief and loss with our usual support system … and for some that’s enough.”

She then said that not everyone will need to seek counseling. But she recognizes that being away at college, we might not always have our support system near or available to us. Dr. Lauterbach made sure to point out that in a situation similar to mine, where the loss affects an entire family, we might find our usual support system offline.

“If your support system isn’t available to you, you might want to seek some counseling,” she said.

Since my grief has been mostly mild with waves of intense sadness, I thought it was better to go in on my own. But not everyone is going to have such a controlled grieving process. Many of the symptoms of grief are similar to the symptoms of depression, and they can grow worse with the same effect as those caused by depression.

“If people aren’t functioning,” Dr. Lauterbach said. “If they are finding that they can’t make it to
class, or they can’t take care of themselves or their children then they will want to seek counseling.”
Dr. Lauterbach was quick to add that, “Anybody is free to come in and seek counseling; you don’t have to
wait and see if it gets bad.”

While I’m happy my grief hasn’t gotten out of control, I recognize not everyone is as lucky. If you are experiencing grief or depression and feel that you need help, please don’t hesitate to seek it. You can learn more about CAPS and their services through their website or by calling (734) 487-1118. CAPS also offers you the opportunity to have a walk-in meeting with one of their counselors Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1 p.m.-5 p.m.

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