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AceBasin

5 Surprising Truths About Grief

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5 Surprising Truths About Grief

From the AARP website (quotation follows):

 

Losing a husband or wife is a devastating experience that many of us will have to face.  About 40 percent of women and 13 percent of men who are 65 and older are widowed, according to latest census figures. Until recently, very little sound research existed about how we live on after a loved one has died. But in the past decade, social scientists with unprecedented access to large groups of widows and widowers have uncovered five surprising truths about losing a spouse.

We oscillate. For years, we’ve been told that grief comes in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. If we were to diagram those stages, the emotional trajectory would look something like a large capital W, with two major low points signifying anger or depression, and the top of the last upward leg of the W signifying acceptance. But when psychologist Toni Bisconti of the University of Akron asked recent widows to fill out daily questionnaires for three months, vast fluctuations occurred from one day to the next. A widow might feel anxious and blue one day, only to feel lighthearted and cheerful the next. In other words, we don’t grieve in stages at all, but oscillate rapidly. Over time, those swings diminish in both frequency and intensity until we reach a level of emotional adjustment.

Grief is not forever. One of the most important new findings has shown that for most of us, grief is a severe — but self-limiting — condition, not a permanent state. In one study of older men and women who had lost spouses, George A. Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia University, found that the core symptoms of grief — anxiety, depression, shock, intrusive thoughts — had lifted by six months after the loss for 50 percent of the participants. Smaller groups took up to 18 months or three years to resume normal functioning. Loss is forever, but thankfully, acute grief is not.

Loss is harder for men. For years, clinicians have been operating under the assumption that women grieve harder and longer than men. In 2001, psychologists Wolfgang and Margaret Stroebe (a husband-and-wife team) decided to examine all the existing research and came to the surprising conclusion that, after taking into account the higher rate of depression in the overall female population, men actually suffer more from being bereaved. We might be under the impression that widows despair more, but that’s because there are many more widows to observe.

You don’t necessarily need counseling. Often, well-meaning friends and relatives will urge you to attend a support group, or go to see a grief counselor. Although taking such steps might make you feel better, it’s certainly not a requirement for healing. According to a 2008 survey, most grief seems to go away on its own. Counseling can be helpful, however, for people whose grief has already lasted a long time and who are likely suffering from a condition called "complicated grief."

Humor can heal. In 2008, psychologist Dale Lund of California State University surveyed 292 recently bereaved men and women 50 and older, and he found that 75 percent reported finding humor and laughter in their daily lives, and at levels much higher than they had expected. Other research has shown that being able to draw on happy memories of the deceased helps you heal — those who are able to smile when describing their relationship to their husband or wife six months after the loss were happier and healthier 14 months out than those who could only speak of the deceased with sadness, fear and anger. As hard as it might be, try to focus on good memories and feelings about your relationship, as it is the positive emotions that can protect your psyche and help you find serenity.

 

http://www.aarp.org/relationships/grief-loss/info-03-2011/truth-about-grief.html

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Interesting that AARP quotes "Grief is not forever"...grief experts say otherwise.  HOWEVER, it does not stay the same.  So I guess it depends on what they define as grief.  I prefer the term ACUTE GRIEF is not forever.  I wouldn't want anyone thinking they are abnormal because they are still grieving years later, they are not.

Again I am posting this to another site to solicit response from a bonafide grief counselor, one professionally trained in grief, not just  a psychologist.

I disagree that grief is not forever.  I disagree that loss is harder for men. It's not good to compare, men may grief differently than women, but there's nothing about grief that is "lesser" for women.  I would never tell someone "you may not need counseling".  How do you know what they need?  You might, by so doing, keep them from something that might very much benefit them.  Many find counseling helpful at the onset, you don't have to grieve a long time before benefiting from it.
 

From what I've seen you post from AARP, I'd be careful considering them experts.  JMHO

You can check here for responses when they come: http://www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com/index.php?/topic/10595-response-solicited/&tab=comments#comment-132736

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I also disagree that grief is not forever. How can it not be? Grief is emotional distress caused by bereavement.Grief is sorrow. For the rest of our lives, our hearts are going to hold sorrow that our loved one is not with us.

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On 7/26/2017 at 10:13 AM, KMB said:

For the rest of our lives, our hearts are going to hold sorrow that our loved one is not with us.

Ditto that - I think grief never ends, but it definitely changes us; the pain molds us into someone who understands more deeply; hurts more often; appreciates more quickly; cries more easily; hopes more desperately; and hopefully, love more openly.  Grief is forever.

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While I, of course, would not cite AARP as an authoritative source, much of the material was a summary of findings by Professor George A Bonanno, head of the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. He is probably one of the top five experts in grief and bereavement in the United States. 

From the New York Times: 

"In the past decade, social scientists with unprecedented access to large groups of widows and widowers have learned that, as individual an experience as grief may be, there are specific patterns to its intensity and duration that are arguably more helpful in guiding the bereaved in what to expect. They have found that most older people who lose spouses from natural causes recover much more quickly than we have come to expect. In fact, for many, acute grief tends to lift well within six months after the loss.

"This discovery and subsequent work in the field has been driven primarily by George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia. Before he began his research, few bereavement studies had looked at what percentage of widows and widowers recovered quickly, and what percentage were still mired in sadness years later. And none had managed to evaluate the respondents before their loss to get a sense of their overall emotional well-being.

"But by tapping into an existing, long-term survey called the Changing Lives of Older Couples Study, done at the University of Michigan, Professor Bonanno was able to obtain baseline measurements of more than 1,000 married individuals. Participants in the study who subsequently lost a spouse were then invited for follow-up interviews at intervals of 6, 18 and 48 months after the death.

"The single largest group — about 50 percent — showed very little sign of shock, despair, anxiety or intrusive thoughts (the hallmark symptoms of acute grief) even six months after their loss. Those subjects were also screened for lethargy, sleeplessness, inability to experience pleasure and problems in appetite — the classic symptoms of clinical depression — and came up clean on those as well. That didn’t mean that they didn’t still miss their spouses, but that they had returned to somewhat normal functioning, contradicting the popular maxim of widowhood that “the second year is harder than the first.”

"Professor Bonanno summarized the surprising phenomenon in a 2004 article in the journal American Psychologist: “Resilience to the unsettling effects of interpersonal loss is not rare but relatively common, does not appear to indicate pathology but rather healthy adjustment, and does not lead to delayed grief reactions.”
 
"As for the remaining participants, about 15 percent exhibited grief symptoms that were moderately high at 6 months but almost completely gone by 18 months. For an additional 10 percent, those who were still having problems at 18 and 48 months, grief had become chronic.
 

"There were two additional groups that had never been considered in the literature: people who were depressed before and after their loss whose troubles seemed to be a pre-existing condition (about 10 percent), and people whose depression improved after the loss (also about 10 percent), suggesting that the death of a spouse actually alleviated stress.

"Loss is forever, but thankfully, acute grief is not."

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5 hours ago, Francine said:

Ditto that - I think grief never ends, but it definitely changes us; the pain molds us into someone who understands more deeply; hurts more often; appreciates more quickly; cries more easily; hopes more desperately; and hopefully, love more openly.  Grief is forever.

Right on Francine.  Right on.  Hopes more desperately really grabs me.  

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It's "cries more easily" for me. I find myself crying every time I see a news report about someone losing a spouse or loved one. In the past I would feel sympathy for them but now I start balling like a baby as I know the road they are about to walk. I absolutely hate it when someone joins our terrible club. It breaks my heart to know someone else is here with us.

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Eagle-96, yes that's how I feel too every time I watch tv.  I'm so sensitive its like a few layers of my skin have been peeled off.  Loss is like the club no one wants to join.

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AceBasin,

It goes against what other experts in the field are saying, but I understand there is difference of opinion, it just doesn't resonate with everything I've learned in the last 12 years.  I wonder if he has lost his spouse.

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AceBasin, I am going to be bold here and ask you where you are in your grief process? There has been no sharing from you, that is your option, of course. Are we being observed and studied as lab rats for your professional buddies. Your postings reflect clinical research, from other data sources. Where is your own personal input? This is a grieving forum, not a survey analysis.

No intent to hurt your feelings or lessen your own grieving. Just curious about how you are making use of this forum.

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8 hours ago, KMB said:

There has been no sharing from you, that is your option, of course. Are we being observed and studied as lab rats for your professional buddies. Your postings reflect clinical research, from other data sources. Where is your own personal input?

I posted this article because I knew of several friends on the board that would be interested in it.  I try to post things that are accurate and when the conclusions of the article were questioned, I posted some of the research I had done prior to posting it.

As far as my not sharing information, I have posted candidly and at length and have started multiple threads of a personal nature. If I recall, you replied to many of them.

I am in the 50% that is adjusting and doing very well. Any personal issues or questions I have at this point are too specific and private for a public forum.

Never have I asked a question or made a post that was for anything other than my personal purposes, and I have only discussed online forums with another professional once (and never mentioned the forum, I just asked a general question about them), and have never quoted, used, or summarized any posts here.

It just does not hurt to occasionally have a post that reinforces that for the vast majority of those who have lost a spouse, that things will improve.

This is the closing paragraph from the 2011 article, and I hope at least a few members of this forum will benefit from reading his materials:

“When Professor Bonanno published his findings, they were initially met with disbelief, along with criticism that his sample had simply not included the worst cases. But he has since replicated the results in other data sets of bereaved individuals and gradually, his trajectories have become the standard among clinical researchers who measure how people respond to loss compared with the statistical norms. Perhaps we will begin to update our own popular notions about grief as well.”

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AceBasin, Thank you for your honesty and self explanation. I do recall your early on personal posts, but I have been wondering why nothing recently, except articles and stats. We all have internet access, all capable of doing our own research and reading. Due to my own roller coaster of emotions, I was perceiving your posts in the wrong light and I do apologize. You have clarified your reasons.

10 hours ago, AceBasin said:

It just does not hurt to occasionally have a post that reinforces that for the vast majority of those who have lost a spouse, that things will improve.

That is true. Whereas, there have been members who are further along their journeys, sharing their experiences of improvement, in a compassionate, encouraging manner, without the clinical jargon. Personally, I think the former is an easier, friendlier way of expression. Our emotions, feelings are tender, sensitive, during this unwanted grieving. Stats and averages of where professionals think we should be at, by a specific time slot, is an unwelcome bruise. We are individuals moving through this life in our own time frame.

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You post as if they are accurate but in 12 years of study I have found the opposite to be true.  I guess we both have to have the open mind that conclusions are in the eye of the beholder, even with clinical research and stats.  Apparently you are finding quite the opposite from everything I have learned under the tutelage of Marty Tousley, whose credentials are listed here http://www.griefhealing.com/about.htm.  She has worked with Hospice of the Valley for a number of years, hosting their grief site, as well as grief counseling, and now has her own grief site.

I'm glad you're doing well with your adjustment, whatever you're doing must be working for you and I appreciate your desire to contribute to your fellow grievers.

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