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The Pace of Grief by Greg Eckerman

How long will this last? When will I get back to normal? Am I getting better fast enough?

We are on a difficult, terrible journey. One no one would ever choose to make.  It’s natural to want it over, but in time we learn that some aspects of our grief will be with us for the rest of our lives. Our losses will always hurt. In time, we learn to embrace that pain and recognize the love behind it. In time, we understand that our old normal is gone forever . . . we must build a new normal. Ultimately, we recognize that our grief is unique and will progress at the pace we accept, based on the support we receive.

But the world around us doesn’t like those answers. We are expected to move on, to grieve on schedule. The medical establishment even has a timetable for ‘acceptable’ grief. The following is excerpted from Complicated Grief: How to Understand, Express, and Reconcile Your Especially Difficult Grief, by Dr. Alan Wolfelt: 

The diagnosis “prolonged grief disorder” was added to the most recent edition, Volume 5, of the American Psychiatric Association’s The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This is the handbook used by psychiatrists, social workers, therapists, and mental-health professionals to assess patients who are struggling with mental-health issues of all kinds. 

Six months or more after a death, grievers presenting with intense symptoms—such as continual yearning for the person who died, strong emotional pain or numbness, and difficulty moving on with life—may, at the professional’s discretion, be given the diagnosis “prolonged grief disorder”  . . . . 

I disagree with this diagnosis and the term “disorder” because they pathologize the normal human response to an abnormally difficult loss. . . . . No matter what, I want you to remember that grief and mourning are healthy, normal responses to loss.

Six months! I don’t remember much of what I was doing six months after Eric died, but I’m pretty sure I had only just begun to effectively grieve. We who have lost a loved one to self harm (suicide or substance abuse) almost always experience complicated grief – intense emotions, often intermingled with feelings of guilt, shame, and/or anger, that stay with us for a long time.

For much of human history and in many cultures, we gave ourselves permission to express our grief in mourning for as long as it takes. Often people would remain in mourning for a year or more, wearing outward signs of their grief and inviting inquiries about their loss. Now, we have the funeral within a week, take 3 days off work, and are expected to move on and return to normal – we wouldn’t want to make those around us uncomfortable with our pain, would we?

So now we pathologize intense grief.  We set a limit on the acceptable time to mourn our loss. If we take longer than that . . . it gets labeled a ‘Disorder’.

I’m not buying it. We are not crazy . . .  we are grieving. Surviving our losses is the hardest thing most of us will ever do. I think we have the fundamental right to set our own pace. At EricsHouse we say: “as companions to the bereaved, we will walk alongside them and hold their hands until they are ready to let go”.  We’ll be here until you’re ready.