Life Matters Media
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A Case For Grief

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

Courtesy Pixabay
Courtesy Pixabay

Sometimes grieving shouldn’t be avoided, but encouraged.

People facing terminal illness and families coping with the death of a loved one can find meaning in tragedy through the grieving process, says Dr. Robert Neimeyer.

Neimeyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Memphis, studies the relationship between death, grief and loss. On Thursday, he will address clinicians, end of life care advocates and patients at Kent College of Law in Chicago at an event organized by the Chicago End-of-Life Care Coalition.

He spoke with Life Matters Media about mourning and how medical professionals can better assist patients and their families through the grieving process.

Is grief a bad thing for people facing the death of a loved one?

Dr. Robert Neimeyer
Dr. Robert Neimeyer

No, quite the contrary, grief is how we love people when they die.

There is nothing more natural than grief, and it’s important not to “pathologize” it.

However, it’s also important to look for forms of grieving that don’t move forward towards a kind of integration into peoples’ lives.

When people become stuck in a kind of unrelenting course of grieving, which is very preoccupying, it can greatly limit their involvement in other relationships and in the world.

We want to understand grief as not a pathological process, but people can also deal with it in complicated ways that can be very threatening to their lives and health.

It seems like a very fine line between normal grieving and letting it take control over your life. 

It’s a fine line in the earliest stages of grieving.

If at six months or six years, people are still grieving as if it’s six days or six weeks, then the line becomes a little clearer. That’s why most understandings of complicated grief really see it as a prolongation and intensification of grief that does not move towards greater adaptation across time.

How can clinicians better care for grieving people in the hospital setting?

I think one practice that holds a lot of promise is really taking the time to narrate the story of the loved one’s life in a public way, to give them honor.

There are various ways of doing this. One is called “dignity therapy,” for when a patient is still clear of mind, even if their body is failing. Engage in in-depth interviews about their childhood, people who were their heroes, things that held special meaning to them.

“Dignity therapy” is often recorded and transcribed and read aloud to the family and patient. There are not many dry eyes as the stories are being read. It contributes greatly to finding meaning in loss or aftermath of loss.

How can people make the most out of mourning?

Quality of time spent together during the terminal phase of life can be a great comfort, especially if it is not done to the point of exhaustion.

Family members should cooperate to ensure coverage of their loved one, but where each is also able to attend other dimensions of their lives.

Can people maintain relationships with deceased loved ones? 

People are looking to find ways to maintain relationships with people who are here in spirit or in an emotional sense.

There are many practices that can assist them. People can kind-of correspond with the deceased and imagine how they would respond back. People have facilitated conversations with their internal image of the deceased.

Some people can use mementos to feel close to their loved ones.

It’s all fine, because we have the capacity to love more than one person. We don’t have to end one love relationship in order to have another.

You can register for his lecture here