2010-12-30 / Worship

Withdrawal can be a beneficial reaction, but social interaction is still important

By REV. GLEN KOHLHAGEN

I have mentioned before in this column that grief is like a thief in the night who not only stole your loved one but sneaks up on you and steals all of your energy and your dr ive to do things that you like to do. When we are grieving we become so physically exhausted that we just do not have the get up and go to do anything.

When we are grieving the first thing we stop doing is anything we used to do with our social network of family and friends. Rather than doing to the high school concert or the movie and dinner, we would rather sit at home, usually in the dark, and quietly listen to music or thumb through scrapbooks or boxes of pictures. Others may look at this kind of activity as going backwards in the grief process but in reality when you spend quiet time doing things like listening to favorite music or looking at picture books, what you are actually doing is integrating your loss with your memories and your thoughts and you are actually growing through your grief.

The one social activity that does normally start is the visiting of the cemetery or burial site of your loved one. You may have never visited the cemetery before, but you find yourself drawn to it after your loved one is buried. You may take flowers or plants and tend them at the grave. You may take a balloon and release it on special days. And there will be days when you just visit the grave and quietly sit or talk as if your loved one was sitting next to you. These are all very therapeutic things to do.

There are others who are the direct opposite. They could never visit the grave of their loved one. Does that make him, or her, a bad person? Not in the least.

Our homes are filled with reminders of our dead loved ones. There are pictures on every flat surface and mementoes packed or hung everywhere. Does leaving them out mean that you are clinging onto your deceased, loved one? No. Does putting them away mean you are burying your grief and not facing it? No. Does always sitting in grandpa’s chair mean you are unable to let go? No. Does giving grandpa’s chair to the Salvation Army mean you don’t love him anymore? No.

Isolating ourselves for great amounts of time is not helpful, no matter how much of our energy has been sapped, but it can be therapeutic. We were created as social creatures and we all need human contact. Pets are good but they do not substitute for human conversation. Pets are good listeners, but we all need feedback. Going for walks, attending church, and going every week or two and visiting with friends are all ways that we can talk with others and let some of our pent up grief be expressed in helpful ways.

Grief is a unique journey that we all must go on at some time in our lives. How we are going to handle it cannot be predicted. Nor can how we dealt with a previous loss predict how we will deal with a new loss. All grief is unique. Different people differently because our relationship with each person is different. What is important is that you work through your grief in a way that is personal to you and that you are doing it in your own way.

(If you have any questions about this article or about resources in the local community you can contact the author, Rev. Glen Kohlhagen, at the Washington Presbyterian Church at 706-678-7511. Rev. Kohlhagen facilitates a bereavement group sponsored by the Wills Memorial Hospital on the second Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m. in the hospital library/conference room.)

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