Am I Right?

How to live ethically

Mourning the Loss of a Loved One

There is no timetable for bereavement

Suffering a death of a loved one is analogous to a physical injury. Some people shrug off injuries, some go into shock. One wound may take days to heal, a similar wound at another time may take the same person months to heal. Healing has no timetable. Indeed some feelings may never go away.

Bereavement is a form of emotional sickness. A mourner, full of pain and loss, acts irrationally, at once needing companionship and comfort and also intensely needing to be left alone in the privacy of memory. Just as a burn victim wants to be held but cannot without causing more pain, a person who has experienced a death of someone close needs friends but will often rebuff all efforts to be helpful.

A man I knew suffered the death of his wife. His friends wanted to help and all their offers were rejected. He found reasons not to accept invitations, he didn’t return calls and sometimes he forgot to keep appointments. Anxiety, terror, anger and guilt made it difficult for him to accept others’ desires to be helpful. Unfortunately his friends experienced his emotional turmoil with its contradictions and rebuffs as personal rejections. They wrongly concluded that he was no longer interested in them as friends. By the end of the year the friendships had undergone such strain that they were irrevocably broken.

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His friends could not appreciate the extent of his hurt and confusion. They could not accept his irrationality or the length of time it took him to regain his balance. Their timetable for his healing wasn’t his.

Just as a healthy body eventually is repaired, the suffering of bereavement is eventually transformed. A wound that does not heal, however, indicates an underlying problem, and bereavement that continues without end needs to be examined. A mourner must return to life. This is not a matter of letting go of the past or of forgetting; it is a matter of accepting and moving on.

 

Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than twenty books.

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