The isle of Griefland has many unique geographical characteristics, including its varying distance from your home. Not only that, its size and terrain constantly mutate as well. You might become entangled in masses of vines unable to break free for a while, or have to drag yourself interminably over harsh rock after harsh rock. Or, as someone recently wrote in her blog, you might be forced onto a most capricious roller coaster there. A few of you might be lucky and just take in poignant scenes as you sit on grass as soft as cashmere. Most peculiar of all, visitors never know in advance the length of their stay let alone the starting date. Not even “death professionals” can give an estimate. In fact, their own assumptions can throw off their estimate more than the average person’s.
Come again? Haven’t hospice personnel and the like seen zillions of cases and discerned some trends? Sure there are overall patterns, but like the weather and the stock market, on any one given day, the pattern appears totally random or idiosyncratic. Just because we have a hot day at the end of October in the United States does not mean that October is typically a very warm month. And it does not mean that the next day will be hot as well.
One of the two major mistakes I’ve seen hospice personnel make is overestimating how long a mourner will be in Griefland after the death. I once read about a chaplain urging the surviving son of a dementia patient to be in touch with his feelings and allow himself time to mourn. On the face of it, that sounds pretty wise: If you give yourself permission to feel and work your way through the sadness and anger and whatnot, then your departure date from Griefland can be sooner rather than later. That is generally true, just like October is generally on the cool side in the Western Hemisphere. Alright here’s the catch: This response came after the son revealed that “My Mom died the day she forgot who I was.” In other words, that was his start date in Griefland, which might have been months or who knows even years before he heard the crunch of shovels filling with dirt to throw onto the casket. Not only that, his departure date from Griefland might have been more or less before the start date of the funeral.( Note: if you are a budding death professional, the terminology goes like this: the mourner had engaged in anticipatory grief.)
The other mistake, as you might guess, is underestimating how long someone will grieve, or telling the griever in so many words that they have worn out their welcome in Griefland. Sure, the concern is unhealthy grieving (i.e. inability to do one’s job, not enjoy anything at all in life, not function with other surviving loved ones and friends), but there are cases where extended grieving is not dysfunctional. One of my most popular recent Tweets was to the effect, “Once the whole fandamily stops telling you to ‘get over it,’ that’s when you will be able to take the first tentative steps to doing so.” Whether dysfunctional or not, indicating that a griever is “overdoing it” impedes his or her expression of feelings. Ironically this keeps the grieving process stalled and therefore even extends our stay in that most frequented but least popular destination, Griefland.
Moral of the story: Grieving outliers unite!