There are moments that change everything. Events that serve to divide time into before, during, and after periods. The courses of our lives will be determined by a series of events out of our control and beyond prediction. We can be here, right here on this earth in one second, and beyond the grasp of our friends and family in the next. My good friend from high school was killed by a drunk driver in late September of this year. He was the kind of guy everyone knew and loved. He was the kind of guy who should have gotten married and had three kids and coached baseball. The vacuum his death created changed the town I grew up in. Something was taken from all of us that couldn\’t be replaced. The days following his death were filled with the loud grief, like the visitation and the funeral; the kind of grief that comes with a road map of how to deal. You go to the visitation, talk to people, cry, and reminisce.[grief]
But, what do you do after that? What happens when all the noise is gone and you\’re left alone with thoughts echoing through your head? The silence of the night can be deafening, bleak and endless. In order to begin the process of re-entering the world, we must understand what grief is, the grieving process and the options available to us. The grief counseling programs offered by local health care providers and the counseling department are available to help navigate through a brush with a traumatic event.
\”Grieving is the word we use to describe the process of adjusting to a loss,\” said Nan Hunt, the clinical manager of the care management department at Spectrum Health. \”When we lose someone, it\’s like a piece of us has been pulled out, and that stops us.\” Grief becomes as much about adjusting your world view as it is about healing a metaphoric wound. The realization the world did not and would not grind to a halt on its axis with the death of my friend surprised me. The death of another scares us because it is a reminder that we too will one day leave this earth. If we adjust our ideas about death as a part of life, mourning becomes a send-off ritual for those we love. The dead are beyond our earthly troubles now, and this can be a helpful concept when grieving.
It\’s important to understand grief is not a one moment feeling, like a flash of rage or a wave of ecstasy; rather, grief lingers. The process of dealing with grief is just that: a process. According to Hunt, dealing with your grief becomes about \”externalizing your internal feelings. If you put it out there, it becomes real, which allows you to become active,\” she said. She recommends \”talking, laughing, and remembering what it was that made you love that person.\”
[mallory1]Everyone grieves differently, so there is no real linear path. However, there are certain checkpoints on your journey. According to Hunt, there are several steps in the grieving process. First, people respond with shock or denial. \”This allows us to put up a wall that insulates us from the immediate emotional response,\” she said.
After this barrier is broken through, people usually respond dynamically with either sadness or anger. After that step, it is easy to slip into an overwhelming sense of depression or guilt. \”Guilt comes from the realization that we can\’t control the events of our lives and questions of why that person was taken and we were left,\” Hunt said. Guilt often causes people to withdraw from their social lives.
Understanding the grieving process allows people to understand their emotional responses. Counseling is a unique experience to everyone who chooses to participate. Everyone grieves differently, and many programs provide specialized therapy specifically targeted at different age groups. Ele\’s Place, a non-profit community-based center at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, focuses specifically on children ages three to 18 and young adults independently. Dealing with young children creates a specific challenge because they may not have the understanding necessary to deal with such a situation. Volunteers understand a three-year-old doesn\’t understand loss the same way a 16-year-old does. Ele\’s Place offers age-oriented peer support groups. Children benefit from the therapy because they develop coping skills early on that they will use for the rest of their lives, said one volunteer, who requested to remain anonymous.
Therapy for college students provides a whole new set of challenges. \”College students feel invincible. College, itself, is such a future-oriented time in one\’s life. You are working very hard to prepare for your life after college and when someone dies without getting to live out that carefully prepared future, it hits home,\” said Mary Ortega, a clinical social worker at the University of Michigan Family Assessment Clinic, LMSW, ACSW. The nature of the loss also plays a huge part in one\’s reaction. \”It\’s different for everyone but it is usually easier to deal with a loss we have time to prepare for. The death of your 95-year-old grandmother is usually easier to accept than the sudden loss of someone your age,\” she said. Our reaction to death becomes a lot about our own concept of how life should go. \”We have an idea of the progression of life and when a person dies before \’their time,\’ it feels like death has violated the laws of nature,\” said Ortega.[ortega]
In addition, college students can deal with second guessing the nature of their relationship with the deceased. \”If you knew that the last time you spoke to them was the last time you would ever get to speak with them, is that what you would have said?\” Ortega asked. This habit does nothing to help healing.
Hunt stressed the important thing to understand about the mourning process is \”there is no short-term solution. Loss is devastating but, it is necessary to our growth. The grieving process allows us to grow as people,\” she said.
It\’s hard to move on. You wander through your daily activities trying to sort everything out. Moving on feels almost like a betrayal. But, life barrels forward, whether you are ready or not. Nothing, including insisting on stopping your world from spinning, will bring that person back now. You can, however, become the person you know they would want you to be. According to Hunt, \”talking, sharing, going on with your day to day activities, and staying connected to the people you love\” will truly help the process. Once you begin to move on, you begin to heal.
Death reminds us we are here on this planet for only a very short amount of time. My friend will never get the chance to become the man he would have been. In his death, however, he was given the chance to impact every person he knew. He inspired an entire group of people to seize their opportunities and live every day like it might be their very last. And that is the true power the people we love have over us. He might not be here anymore, but his influence is etched over every corner of our town. We wander through our new reality knowing that he has shaped the people we are to become. He may be gone, but his influence is everywhere. And for that, the pain of loss is worth it.
There are many options for grief counseling offered right here at MSU. The aforementioned Ele\’s Place offers age oriented peer support groups. The support comes from sharing with a group of people going through a similar emotional experience. MSU and MECCA counseling services offer both individual and group therapy options. Appointments can be made by visiting the office or contacting them at (517) 355-8270.