In recent days, grief has been an ever present part of our daily existence. We have grieved the loss of a much loved member of the community, Senator Paul Wellstone. In recent days, grief has been an ever present part of our daily existence. We have grieved the loss of a much loved member of the community, Senator Paul Wellstone. Many have grieved the possibility of the loss of a well held belief that “Black folks just don’t commit serial killings”, as we watched the news unfold around the killings in Washington, D.C.-area and the implication of two Black men. Millions of people in the United States and on distant shores are grieving the loss of jobs, marriages, hopes and dreams. But what is grief?
Grief is a natural, reaction to loss and is a critical aspect of our health and well-being. According to the Hospice Foundation of America, grief can also come with many kinds of losses, including getting divorced, losing a beloved pet, losing your job, losing your independence, or saying goodbye to grown children as they go off to college.
I thought that nothing could have been more devastating to me than the loss of my children, until my father passed away in 1999. I still am often brought to tears by a song, the scent of Old Spice aftershave or other reminders of him. Though the pain is not as immediate as it was 11 years ago, I still grieve the loss of his presence when there is something going on in my life that I would love to share with him and hear his laughter.
Kenneth J. Doka, PhD., senior consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America, writes: “While grief is universal, no grief experience is exactly like another. There are many mitigating factors that might impact the grief experience. We’re so individual. There are no stages of grief. We are different by ethnicity, by religiosity, by gender, by coping skills. Then we meet the greatest crisis of our lives, and we’re all suddenly going to be homogenized? You and I will respond to a plane delay differently, much less to grief.”
Researchers are finding that racism and poverty are often mixed into Black people’s grief, as well. In a study on African Americans and grief, it was identified that racism is a primary factor. Interviews conducted uncovered that one woman believed that racism prompted a hospital’s decision years ago to turn her mother away after a stroke. One man said his father died from Vietnam War exposure to Agent Orange after being assigned to work with the chemical by a military officer he regarded as racist (Cummings).
When we experience loss, it is very important that as a part of the healing process, we allow for grieving. When we don’t allow for healing through grief, we short circuit the process. In looking at the life history of those who commit violent crimes, we often find the cumulative effect of unresolved grief. How often have we heard of murder-suicides following a divorce or loss of a job?
We live in a culture where loss is set aside as unimportant. We are often given the message that we should quickly “just get over it” after a loss. We learn that it is better to put, or give the appearance that we have, our losses behind us, ignore our pain and to think positively. The anger, frustration and hurt that often accompany grief are viewed as inappropriate or maybe even inconvenient responses. Unfortunately, this gives a false sense of how we are responding and the depth to which we are affected by the loss and the related grief.
Though each person might respond differently, the following have been identified through the American Hospice Association as some common responses to loss:DISBELIEF: “It can’t be true.” We keep thinking that any minute you will wake up from a nightmare. Sometimes we can’t cry at first because you don’t really believe it happened. Often people will comment on how well you are doing. Inside we know that the reason we appear to be doing so well is that we just don’t believe it.
SHOCK: Shock is nature’s way of softening the blow.