Commentary – Don’t be afraid to grieve

Pearl Lorentzen

My uncle’s funeral was planned on the Saturday after writing this regional. He died in January, since then I’ve been grieving and thinking about grief.

This is not my first tango with grief, so each stage brings up former pain.

My first memory of death was in upper elementary school. I lived in Three Hills, but attended a church several miles east of town. One of my friends had older sisters and we often played as families. The oldest daughter was 15 or 16. One day, she rode with a friend back from an evening service, but they were involved in a motor vehicle collision. My friend’s sister appeared to be fine. She was walking around. However, she had internal injuries and died.

For about the last year, I have wanted to start counselling as a form of self-care, but had put it off. My uncle’s death gave me the push I needed.

In therapy, I was telling this story. My counsellor asked if I received any grief support. I laughed. It had never occurred to me that such a thing existed, back when I was a kid or that it would have been offered to me as a friend of a sibling of the deceased. I don’t remember what happened, but I’m sure that the focus was on helping the family, making casseroles, etc.

This realization brought new meaning to a tendency within my family.

A few years ago my cousin killed himself by suicide. All of us said we were fine, but concerned about the other person. Of course, we weren’t fine. We were grieving, but we had trouble accepting this.

Thankfully, I am now aware that everyone experiences grief and that it is OK to ask for help. When we were deflecting our grief, this was part of denial which is the first stage of grief.

The five most commonly accepted stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There is no straight shot through these. In the process, we often move back and forth between these stages.

Just before or just after my cousin’s suicide, I started counselling for the first time. I had just started a master’s degree, but was overwhelmed with worry about what I would do afterwards. For me, talk therapy was helpful. It helped me identify the healthy coping skills I had, create better internal self-
talk habits, and learn new skills.

Going into counseling this time, I wasn’t in a crisis. I wanted to maintain and increase my overall wellbeing. However, it has been a useful tool.

Other things I have found helpful this time around have been personal reflection, being part of a C.A.R.E. group (an emotional support group), and organizing and attending Human Libraries.

As a volunteer with Slave Lake and Area Mental Health Network (SLAM), I organize monthly Human Libraries in partnership with the Slave Lake Library. Each month, one to three people volunteer to be a ‘human book’ and tell their life story to one to five people.

The first one was the third Saturday of January. The warm up exercise gave me the words to describe my feelings. I was numb with fissures of brief explosive emotions. Naming this helped me to accept my emotional state. Listening to the human book, helped take me out of my own head. The other two have also had an impact.

Grief is not something we can avoid, and it takes time, but the internal work is worth it.

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