Quit Labeling Grievers!

red stop sign Why do we insist on categorizing grief and mourners in ways that make mourners feel abnormal or in need of being "fixed"?

Grief is not a disease, a mental or emotional disorder, a bad attitude or perspective, or a misbehavior or sin.  Grief does not need to be cured, diagnosed and medicated out of existence, fixed, recovered from, or avoided.  Grieving people are not sick, broken or crazy.  Mourners are simply experiencing a natural, human response to the loss of a person due to death.   In order to heal, mourners need to receive support, comfort, encouragement, information about grief, and enough time to move through grief.  Grief is not an event which is gone through quickly. Grief cannot be rushed. Grief is a process which takes time and patience on the part of the mourner and his or her support system.

Natural healthy grief serves a purpose.  Grief is a transition time from life with the person present physically to life without the person there physically.  A mourner cannot simply jump from one to the other without going through some sort of transition.  Grief helps the person to face the reality of death and loss, to accept the new reality, to evaluate the impact of the loss on his or her life, to make life adjustments, and then to move on in a healthy fashion in the new reality.

Unfortunately our culture, especially the business world, is not very grief or mourner friendly.  Corporations and HR departments place pressure upon the mourner to move quickly and efficiently through the grief process.  The message from the business world and our culture to the mourner is that grief must be done quickly, and with no impact on productivity at the workplace.  Even death-related corporations and businesses including hospices implement short bereavement leave for their employees.  Those who deal with death and mourning on a daily basis should know better.  There needs to be more compassion for the mourner in our culture at the workplace, in the community, and in churches.

Mourners also suffer at the hands sometimes of those they seek to help them-counselors and mental health professionals.  Some of these professionals seek to label mourners with new mental health diagnoses that signify the grieving person is not grieving in a normal or acceptable way.  These diagnoses have been created in order that practitioners can have a code number to give to an insurance company or to place in a client's file that will allow them to justifying getting paid for their services.  The complaint I have is not with the counselor trying to help the person but with the diagnostic system labeling grief as abnormal.  Certainly grief can become complicated and true mental and emotional disorders (depression, etc) can result, but the resulting mental and emotional disorder must be addressed and treated without labeling grief as a disorder or abnormal.

Unfortunately these grief diagnoses put pressure on the mourner to speed up their grief process to reach a level that the medical and mental health communities deem to be healthy grief within a time frame chosen to be normal by the diagnosing medical and mental health professionals.  Natural, healthy grief does not follow a timetable set up by a medical or mental health professional.  Grief does not follow a timetable wished for by the mourner or any of his support system.

Mourners should know that there is no set time or pace for grief.  Natural, healthy grief will vary from individual to individual and with each situation.  The best help a mourner can receive is from a grief companion as described by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado (www.centerforloss.com).  A grief companion will meet mourners where they are, not judge them in their grief experienced our feelings, and walk through them during the darkest time of their life after a loss. Mourners should also know that grief is the natural human response to the loss of a person by death.  Grief happens because we love the person who has died.  Grief is overflowing love for a person no longer physically present, and mourning for that person who died is not morbid or pathological.  Mourning a death is the natural result of losing someone you love and honors a valuable life.

Posted by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Christianbook.com.

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on Amazon.com.

Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX  http://grief-works.org.