In the weeks following the heartbreaking shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, many people in our country and around the world have been experiencing grief. I myself have had moments where the disgusting reality of what happened has brought me to tears, and I have had to work through the intense emotions brought on by yet another national tragedy. As a child care professional, educator, and uncle, one of the first things that I think about is how are children, families, and teachers handling the news? The day of the tragedy on Dec. 14, I called my nephews and spent some time talking to them, assuring them that I love them, and that I was deeply saddened by the news, without revealing the details I had learned.
I want to take this opportunity to address a few questions I feel are very important after a tragedy. Why do we grieve? What are grieving styles? How can we support someone who is grieving?
Grief is neither a disorder nor a healing process: it is a sign of health itself, a whole and natural gesture of love. Nor must we see grief as a step towards something better. No matter how much it hurts–and it may be the greatest pain in life–grief can be an end in itself, a pure expression of love–Gerald May, M.D.
In Death and Dying, Life and Living, Charles A. Corr and Donna M. Corr write that, “Ordinary, uncomplicated grief is a healthy, normal and appropriate reaction to loss.” Along with the heartbreaking loss of life, on Dec. 14, we also lost a sense of sanctity and safety surrounding the elementary school years of children’s lives. The loss of this idea has been especially jarring for teachers, parents, and family members of young children. Grief and grieving should be considered an expression of love, and can be supported through understanding of the differing styles in which people grieve.
“Because there is no universal reaction following any given loss, one person’s grief should not be construed as a standard by which others should evaluate themselves.” Corr and Corr
Kenneth Doka PhD and Terry Martin PhD write of a range between intuitive and instrumental grievers.
Instrumental grievers temper painful feelings, and grief is more of an intellectual experience. They might channel their energy into activities, and discuss problems rather than feelings. Instrumental grievers may be less familiar with strong feelings.
On the other hand intuitive grievers experience grief through profoundly painful feelings. They tend to cry and have a strong desire to share their inner experiences with others and spontaneously express painful feelings.
Both grieving styles, and every mixture of styles between intuitive and instrumental, use primary adaptive strategies which are the principal ways of expressing grief and assimilating and adapting to loss. Watching for primary adaptive strategies is helpful when identifying what style of griever a person is. Primary adaptive strategies might be emotional outpourings, desires to discuss problems, or a person who is much more active than normal. When two people operate on separate ends of the grieving spectrum one person may feel that the other is in fact not grieving, this can be especially challenging between a parent and child or between spouses. However, they may in fact be grieving in drastically different ways and therefore will respond to attempts of support in different ways as well.
Over time, grieving patterns may change, and grief can be experienced differently based on the loss, or various circumstances. Reflecting upon, and understanding, your own grieving style can allow you to communicate ways someone offering support could be helpful. It can be equally important to simply acknowledge that someone is grieving and offer the space for them to do so in their own way.
Here are some questions to consider. Feel free to comment on ways you have found to support yourself and others in times of grief.
How do you grieve, and what can others do to support your grieving style?
How do the loved ones in your life grieve, and how can you support their grief styles?
Have you experienced different types of grief for different losses?
© Jonathan Iris-Wilbanks and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2013
Thanks Jonathan for this publication, I missed your articles & I miss you too as a fellow worker, you taught me so much.
I know from experience it’s not easy losing a close family member: My father passed away in a car accident when I was only 4 years old and I’m still working his loss; Perhaps it is for this reason I never wanted to have my own children, because I did not want them to go through the same pain I had to go through my loss.
Jonathan, please keep writing articles to Sunflower family, in this way we can have you close 🙂 A warm hug, Sandra Bravo.
Sandra! Thank you for sharing your experience with grief. I know you surround yourself with amazing loving people and amazing activites like Taiko and dancing which I’m sure helps you a lot.
I love sharing through the Sunflower blog and hope to post many more!
Like you Sandra, I lost my mother when a was a kid. In 4, she got sick, went into the hospital and I never saw her again. My father was already married. I was sent to live with an Aunt and Uncle for 2 years. Then sent to my father and his wife who I did not even know. Like you I was afraid to have kids. Afraid of what would happen if I died. I would up with 2 step children whom I love but it was not easy. I eventually lost everyone who raised me in recent years. I know recently lost my husband of 30 years. You grieve for each one differently. Each one leaves a mark and shapes your life. Everyone grieves differently and it also depends on who you grieve for maybe be how each process happens. I think we need all these things, time for being alone, time to talk to someone close, time to talk to someone who just enlightens you in some way. Thoughts go through your head and sometimes you feel like your loosing your mind or loosing yourself. Each one of those people shape your life, good or bad. My husband changed my life, he believed in me and made me believe in myself. He changed who I was and helped me to become who I am. I learned a long time ago, to learn from each experience, why they were put in our lives and to try and find the strength to move forward. No one can ever replace them, nor will we ever replace the marks left on our souls. We shape our future by our grieving process and what we do with it. I cry, I miss, I am lonely, etc. But through his love and thank him for being with me for the time I had and hope to make him proud and prove the others wronge. Grief hurts no no other because we are here and part of our sole is missing. I thank God for the time I had with him.
I also learned and tied up some loose ends from the others. Some may never be resolved but that is all still part of the process.
the Anniversary of his passing will be coming up in Feb. I am at a loss for something special to do to honor him.
Thanks Anonymous, for sharing your story with us. I also feel your grief.