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Grieving is natural. It’s good for you. It’s necessary.

But can you take grief too far?

What is “too far?”

What’s right and necessary for one is dangerous for another.

I recently watched “Reign Over Me”about a man (played brilliantly by Adam Sandler–not his usual comedic role) who loses his wife and three daughters in the airplane crash of 9/11. The premise is that his best friend and college roommate (Don Cheadle, also brillant) recognizes him on the street, flags him down and they rekindle their friendship–only Charlie (Adam’s character) refuses to talk about his wife and children. When he’s confronted he panics and flips out. Both men ran prominent dental practices, but Charlie is no longer a dentist–his life had been altered by the death of his family.

This one of the most profound, thoughtful movies on grief I have ever seen. Whatever faults or unevenness it may have is due in part to the very difficult subject matter. It examines the role of friendship, how grief changes you, what you lose and what you gain, how you question everything, how everything and nothing has meaning, and how to ever so slowly begin again.

Charlie was not the same man after his family died. He couldn’t do the same things.

Is that you?

Also know that you begin to grieve even before your loved ones pass away. Caregivers, especially those who care for someone with Alzheimer’s and other long-term illnesses are grieving on so many levels. It can feel like you’ve been grieving for years before your loved one ever dies.

Some people can and need to go right back into their jobs and life after a tragedy. It makes them feel normal, safe, that life has some continuity and gives their life meaning. These are good reasons to keep on course, and if that’s what you need, what works for you, then don’t feel guilty or think you’re not showing the proper response of grief just because you can go on with you life.

No one should judge your grief.

I know people who don’t talk about their sorrows. Ever. Some, much, much later. Some show it in their actions. It varies, and that’s okay. Don’t think you’re heartless because you don’t “do it” in some expected way.

Grief is individual. Grief doesn’t have to look normal.

I won’t give the movie away (I do highly recommend it), but there comes a point in the movie when it implies, “Can you grieve too much?”

Does there come a point when it’s not healthy, or downright dangerous?

Yes. It can.

Depression, isolation, insomnia, drinking, and other risky behavior such as gambling, promiscuity, extreme and dangerous sports–you may experience any or all of these symptoms. It’s part of the process.

There is a biology to grief

Grief releases powerful chemicals in your body. The first, being shock. That’s to keep you alive during the event. That’s how people are able to survive car or plan accidents and get to a place of safety before their bodies begin to shut down. That’s how a mother can lift a car off her toddler even though she has a broken arm.

Grief also comes with many coping mechanisms. Sometimes we have to simply use every possible tool we have to get by–even when they’re not good for us. We have to exist before we can live again.

I’m not going to tell you because you can’t sleep without prescription meds that you’re grieving too much–or I’m not going to tell you just because you polish off a bottle of wine several nights a week that you’re ruining your life. At some point you might, but you may have to over-use, over-indulge to drown your pain–and you’ll have to find your way back out.

I asked a friend who had gone through a bad patch of grief and had done some pretty risky things why she thought she did them. They were out of character for her, and were downright unsafe.

She paused, and then said, ‘Because I could. Because I didn’t have anything to live for–so doing something dangerous or crazy didn’t matter.”

That’s what grief, hurt and sorrow can do to you.

It’s not that I’m suggesting that you should. Trust me. I’m not judging you if you are.

Sure, there are healthier ways to grieve–walks, talking with friends, professional help, journaling, support groups–but let’s face it, we don’t always and consistently do what’s good for us.

Some people, like Charlie in the film have to radically change their life.

I know one woman who sold everything, moved across the country and started working for habitat for humanity. I know another who is spending a year (that’s the plan as of now) in Belize surfing and taking odd jobs. I know another who person who after 9/11, sold his business and lived on a sailboat in the Caribbean for two years. I know another who after losing a child, has had four children in four years.

There’s no one right way to handle grief.

When do you know if you’ve taken grief too far?

  • You need to work and you can’t–and you don’t have an alternative way to live–(homelessness)
  • Alcohol, drugs or even prescription drugs are consuming you
  • You have no initiative or purpose–for years–even though you want to–and it doesn’t feel like you’re coming out of your fog, just stuck
  • You’re completely cut off from everyone (for a very long time) and it’s not working for you, it’s not because you’re content
  • You have repeated thoughts or attempts of suicide
  • Nothing brings you joy or comfort–and it’s been years
  • Your health is now at risk–obesity, forgetting to eat, not taking needed meds have begun to take a serious toll
  • A fixation has taken over–perhaps a fixation of your loved one, of death, or trying to contact them–whatever the fixation, it’s bordering on dangerous and hindering every day activities such as eating or sleeping or getting out. It’s easy to fall into this. You don’t mean to, it just sort of happens–but it’s the kind of thing you might need help getting out of.

Any of these can occur and you can still be okay, not great, but okay–still dealing with grief on your own terms.

But there’s also a line of delineation–when it’s not okay, it’s not part of the process, it’s a never-ending vortex.

How do you move past grief?

  • With help–meet with a grief counselor, one that’s trained and has seen hundreds of people who have had to deal with real tragedies–the journey is different when cataclysmic things have happened.
  • Be willing to go on medication, if necessary, and make sure you take it consistently and are monitored–we all need a little help at times
  • Look into your past back to another time of great hardship–what got you through? You have the keys to your own healing within yourself
  • Call a hotline if you need to
  • Go online and visit some great grief organizations where you can reach out privately in your own home–day or night–the Open To Hope Foundation is a wonderful resource for all kinds of grief–those who have lost a child, a parent, a spouse, those impacted by suicide, drugs, or violence. 
  • As difficult as it might seem, become a part of a small community–a church, a volunteer organization, a group of friends who meet regularly, a support group–ask to be accountable to someone. Go even though you don’t feel like it, have a hangover, a cold, a headache.
  • Be patient. You’ve been through a lot. Guilt, regret, longing can eat away at your life and your heart and your life may seem broken beyond repair. It’s going to take some time to even begin to get on your feet again.
  • Know that the human spirit is amazingly resilient. Although you cannot fathom it, your life can have meaning and a measure of joy again.
  • Be willing to eventually open to love again. For now, willingness is all that matters

The bottom line is if you want your life to change, you’re ready to reach out, but you just don’t know how, it’s time to ask for help. We all need help at times.

I hope that something I’ve said will comfort you and offer light.

I offer this prayer–to all who feel lost.

May that small sliver of hope

slide between the folds of your heart

May a breeze catch you by surprize and remind you

you are not alone

May you once again feel the warmth of a hand, the brush of a shoulder

Trust. Trust beyond reason. Beyond today. Trust.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.Kunati.com, Publisher

 

 

        

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