Embracing End of Life

Close up of a hand laying a white rose on the top of a headstone

Embracing End of Life

“There is no right way or wrong way to grieve – just your way!”

– Eugene Dufour

We live in a culture that celebrates youth and denies old age. Yet, death is unavoidable and our journey to the next life is inescapable. It’s important to find healthy and useful ways to grieve. We can find ways to “ventilate” our grief by finding the right person to “validate” and using different approaches and helpful tools.

Grief is a natural response and a source of stress for anyone experiencing a loss. It requires both physical and emotional energy to cope with the changes brought on by the loss. Grief is not a linear process or an end result. Many studies show that it can take many years to get over the initial impact of death of a family member or friend.  It is also important to break down the negative stigma and misunderstanding of grief. Some myths of grief include:

  • Keeping busy is the best remedy for dealing with grief
  • Not talking about death will make it easier for the grieving person
  • Time heals
  • There is only one way to grieve
  • Personal belongings should be disposed of immediately
  • People who visit the gravesite are living in the past

The Five Stages of Grief

  1. Denial – the first reaction to learning about a terminal illness, loss or death is denial – the inability to process or accept that loss has happened or will happen. Denial is a defence mechanism we use to rationalize our overwhelming emotions.
  2. Anger – feelings of anger or frustration at the unfairness of the loss – you may feel angry with yourself, your care recipient, their doctors, or your religious beliefs.
  3. Bargaining – a normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is a need to regain control through a series of “if only” statements, such as “if only we got a second opinion.” Some people may make a deal with their religious beliefs or higher power to postpone the inevitable and the accompanying pain.
  4. Depression – during this stage, people often feel overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, loneliness and helplessness.
  5. Acceptance – this is not about no longer feeling the pain of loss. It simply means we are no longer resisting the reality of the situation, and we are not struggling to make it something different.

Coping with Loss and Grief

We need to accept our emotions and know that they are normal. Here are a few things we can do:

  • Connecting with others and seeking social support
  • Positive reframing – focus on your thoughts, or emotions
  • Humor – laughter during a time of loss may feel impossible, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments here and there where you can find humor
  • Spiritual – some people find it helpful to turn to their faith for further coping
  • Search for a purpose in life by creating a foundation or charity has helped some move through the grieving process.
  • Joining a support group to talk about our pain, our suffering and the loss and the emotions we experience.

Focus on Self-Care

Positive coping skills can feel like self-care, but they are different. Both are important when you’re grieving, though. In a sense, self-care is a coping skill. It helps you manage your emotions and get proactive about your distress.

Self-care can include:

  • Starting psychotherapy
  • Exercising
  • Practicing relaxation techniques
  • Journaling
  • Asking for support
  • Going to the doctor for a check-up
  • Reconnecting with family and friends
  • Starting a new hobby
  • Pursuing your academic or professional goals

We grieve in the past, present and future. No matter what stages you are grieving in, you have the right to experience your unique grief, to talk and feel about it, and to experience outbursts.

Additional Resources:

  • Connect with Bounceback – a free skill-building program designed to help youth 15+ and adults manage symptoms of depression and anxiety

Sources: The above content was adapted, in part, from an Ontario Caregiver Organization webinar presented by Eugene Dufour who is an Individual, Marital and Family Therapist, Bereavement Specialist, Compassion Fatigue Educator and a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Consultant. He has been working in bereavement, trauma work, hospice palliative care, and the HIV/AIDS movement for the past 30 years. He is a past president of the Ontario Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.

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