A local child and family therapist has expressed concern about a growing culture among Jamaicans of burying loved ones who have passed and moving on without completing what she has termed necessary “grief work”.
According to Dr Beverley Scott, while all loss is devastating, the death of a child or spouse causes the most profound grief one can possibly experience. Therefore, the people who have suffered such a loss are especially in need of a proper therapy outlet to heal naturally.
“When one looks at his dead loved one in a coffin, it helps him to finally accept that his loved one will no longer be with him. He is ready to be put in the earth, and the bereaved will find some kind of closure in his mind. This makes it is easier for him to accept what has happened, although life may not be the same without his loved one,” Scott told the Jamaica Observer.
“Grief work is the psychological process of coping with a significant loss. Just as the body heals if certain conditions are met, so will the mind heal if the emotional pain is dealt with. With the sudden or untimely death of a child or spouse, it is recommended that the individual be given grief counselling because of the levels of stress that come with these losses,” she said, noting that the process involves emancipation from bondage to the deceased, readjusting to a new environment in which the deceased is missing, and the forming of new relationships.
Scott told the Observer that the pain of grief can also disrupt people’s physical health, making it difficult for them to sleep, eat, or even think properly.
“The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be. It is an emotion that every normal person experiences across the globe and Jamaicans are no exceptions. The most common reaction on hearing of the death of someone close to you is shock or denial, which can last for a few days or a number of weeks,” she explained.
And — depending on the emotional support of close relatives and friends, the level of stress, emotional strength and coping skills of the individual grieving — the person may not be able to cope alone.
“Grief comes in waves, and it can feel like nothing will ever be right again. But gradually, most people find that the pain eases and it is possible to accept what has happened. We may never get over the death of someone precious but we can learn to live again while keeping the memories of those we have lost close to us,” Scott said.
“However, this is insufficient for some losses, and the grieving person will need direct grief therapy to cope. What the therapist does is to help the person to go through the grief process by using professional techniques that are necessary for the particular grieving person. The wakes, the nine nights, the candle lighting, the gospel music, the bawlings, mournings, and visits from loved ones and well-wishers are all part of the grief work,” she added.
Scott offered advice to people who have lost a loved one to death.
“Take some time out to recover and relax. Find out about some things you can do to help you cope. If you feel that things are building up, it can help to talk to someone you trust. If you can’t turn to your friends and family, visit your general practitioner or a counsellor. They’ll be able to suggest some things you can do to help you through the grieving process. You don’t have to cope with it alone,” she said.
“When the shock wears off a bit, you’re likely to start grieving. Whatever your experience, don’t stress about how you’re handling it. Everybody grieves in their own way, including physically, emotionally, mentally, behaviourally, socially and spiritually.”
But though the loss of a child or spouse is 100 per cent on the list of stressors, it is not the only issue that can cause people to suffer to the point where they may even develop a mental illness and other health problems.
According to Scott, the top five most stressful life events are the death of a spouse or child at a stress level of 100 per cent; divorce, 73 per cent; marital separation, 65 per cent; imprisonment, 63 per cent; and death of a close family member, 63 per cent.
Personal injury or illness accounts for 53 per cent of stress; marriage, 50 per cent; dismissal from work, 47 per cent; marital reconciliation, 45 per cent; and retirement, 45 per cent.