“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next greatest adventure.”- J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Those who are basketball and sports fans suffered a major blow upon hearing the news of basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s death this weekend due to a tragic helicopter accident. Grief enshrouded Greater Los Angeles Sunday, as Laker’s fans reflected upon the idol status of this competitive, complicated, and transcendent sports figure. When diverse groups of people come together to mourn the loss of a beloved figure, it is moments like these that unify otherwise disparate, scattered and population-infused communities. It is healthy for people to come together to grieve, perhaps a reminder of our capacity as human beings to feel and share compassion, during such divisive splintered times in our nation’s history.
Considered to be one of the foremost experts on death and dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described the grief process as a series of 5 tasks: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Newman, L., 2004). Today’s thanatologists recognize that these stages can be experienced out of order, and sometimes a stage might be skipped. There is no one universal way a person grieves. Each grief process is as unique as the individual. Expert Therese Rando (1991) describes grief as cyclical. In other words, people cycle through these stages at different milestones in one’s life versus completing stages in a linear fashion. For example, a person might revisit grief at a life cycle event like a graduation or a wedding, feeling an upsurge of grief upon missing the departed loved one they had hoped could be present.
Different cultures share varying traditions for honoring the grief process, which may also encompass religion and spirituality. For example, Mexican culture celebrates Dia de los Muertos on Nov. 1 and 2 every year. Food and sugar skeleton candies are placed on altars commemorating their deceased loved ones. Often photographs and other objects are placed with the altar at the gravesite or in a family home, along with flowers. Music and food accompany the celebration and communion with the dead, highlighting a belief in honoring one’s ancestors as well as holding hope for reunion in an afterlife. Community and togetherness bring people together to honor the loved one through stories, and comfort is expressed to survivors, as a sense of belonging encircles the family on a multi-generational level.
For any person or group of people who are grieving, it is important to engage in maximum self care and self compassion during a trying time. Below are some tips and suggestions in the healing journey of grief:
- The intensity of the grief will lessen in time, through every cycle of emotion and lifecycle milestone. However, be patient with how long you think that process will take. There is no date on the calendar that you need to rush to in order to “complete” grief. As mentioned above, grief cycles through life in layers at different ages and stages. As we move through developmental milestones from childhood to adulthood, our ability to grieve expands and deepens. Sometimes we re-grieve losses at subsequent developmental stages as our cognitive capacity grows.
- Seek out community. When in the throws of grief, connecting with others is important to lift the mood, and lower anxiety. Studies show that solid social supports help decrease the possibility of developing depression (Krull, 2018). A sense of belonging in a spiritual community, neighborhood, school system, workplace, etc. can embrace and comfort mourning individuals/families.
- Seek out grief counseling. Whether individual and/or group modality, counseling can help a person stay out of depression and anxiety. It also reduces a sense of isolation by connection human beings together who require social support to thrive. It’s never too late to have grief counseling, even years after a death has occurred. It is even more important to reach out for support if the death was sudden and traumatic, as the grieving person may have trauma in addition to grief to work through. Seeking out a counselor who is trained in grief counseling or other trauma-informed modalities (like EMDR) will be most impactful.
- Engage in self compassion and self care. Be okay with saying “no” to extra obligations. Allow others to serve you (with a meal train or deliver groceries). Be patient with the length and intensity of the grief process, and remind oneself that each grief process looks different to each person. There is no one-size-fits-all way to grieve. Not grieving or stuffing emotion is unhealthy, however, and if that’s the case, having a compassionate and competent grief counselor will be instrumental.
- Revisit basic pillars of brain health: good sleep, nutrition, exercise and positive social supports. These elements are foundational in maintaining (and lifting) serotonin in the brain. See your primary physician if you are struggling with any of these components, as medication management may also be helpful.
Retrieved from: https://psychcentral.com/lib/social-support-is-critical-for-depression-recovery/
Newman L. (2004). Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. BMJ : British Medical Journal, 329(7466), 627.
Rando, T. (1991). How to go on living when someone you love dies, Bantam.