I remember being in graduate school and taking the class Diagnosis and Intervention. I was eager to learn more about diagnostic criteria, how to form a diagnosis to create a treatment plan and measure progress, and just become more comfortable stepping into the career is a clinical mental health therapist. The required book for the class was the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) and a book called Diagnosis Made Easy. I have come to realize that there are some diagnoses that are pretty apparent and therefore “easy” or easier to work with. However, the one that was most complicated for me professionally was the code uncomplicated bereavement. This was complicated for me professionally because it was so ever present for me personally. Now if I had not experienced two significant losses prior to beginning graduate school, I may be would not have been so sensitive to that diagnosis. Something about the words “uncomplicated bereavement” did not sit well with me.
This is not a post about me campaigning a change for a diagnosis in the bible of diagnosis. This is simply an opinion. I have had conversations about this exact thing with others and those who understand why the term “uncomplicated bereavement” bothers me tend to have something in common with me. They have lost someone significant in their lives too. As much as I want to cry at the thought of someone labeling grief as “uncomplicated” - I want to laugh at them just as much. What a mockery of the grieving to say that grief isn’t complicated.
What were you taught about grief growing up? Was it discussed at all? How about death? I remember my dad using the term “grieving” when I was really little. I asked what it meant which led to a discussion about grief, life, death, and everything in between. I remember learning what hospice care was because I saw it on a sign somewhere. I asked about that too to which my dad shared with me about terminal illnesses and how people go into hospice care when they are preparing to die. When I was 15 years old taking my first psychology course, I had already decided that I wanted to be a therapist. Not because psychology was so interesting (which it is) but because I had already had my own round of therapy at that age. Not only had I decided I wanted to be a therapist but that I wanted to work in hospice care. I would visit the nursing home often to see close family friends and my great grandmother and thought, “they seem so alone and sad. I want to be there for them.”
Fast forward a few years and I not only achieved a degree in psychology but also one in grief. Not once, not twice, not even three times. In a matter of a couple years, I was forced to say good-bye to numerous friends and loved ones. Some passed from old age, some suicide, and others health complications. The most significant losses endured were my younger brother to cancer, and five months later my father to a heart attack. My brother was in hospice care for about two weeks and what that felt like I could not tell you. I think I felt everything and nothing all at once.
There is no way to prepare for grief. No matter how much you have talked about it, read about it, or experienced it. My grief has been the pain that has literally caused my heart to ache and my knees to shake to the point I cannot stand on my own two feet. Grief has been sobbing, screaming, trembling, and all-consuming. There have been times where I asked God repeatedly, “why not just take me? Why would you take two of the kindest and purest people I know?” Sometimes, I still feel that way. I suppose that speaks to how much I loved my dad and my brother. I would have gladly given up my life if it meant they could be here. Then I realize that would leave them to feel the pain instead of me. How selfish of me. I do feel jealous of them sometimes because I know that where they are there is no pain or suffering. There are year-round baseball games, endless shelled peanuts, and all the ice cream you can eat.
Melody Beattie said it perfectly, “This much I will tell you about grief: If there was ever a second, or a moment, when you suspected or knew you had been betrayed at the deepest level by someone you adored, and a splintering pain began to shred your heart, turn your world grimly unbearable to the point where you would consciously choose denial and ignorance about the betrayal rather than feel this way, that is one one-millionth of what it feels like to grieve.
Grief is not an abnormal condition, nor is it something to be treated with words. It is a universe, a world, unto itself. If you are called to enter this world, there is no turning back. We are not allowed to refuse that call. Grief is like nothing else, with the possible exception of the pounding waves of the ocean. To the untrained, casual eye, each wave looks the same. It is not. No two are the same. And each one washes away the old, and washes in the new.”
New things have entered my life. Grief has also had its cathartic moments. There is growth in grief. Being forced to face life after death humbled me greatly. I rearranged priorities, started living each day with greater purp
ose, and was overall kinder to people. My older brother along with the help of our family and close friends have been able to turn our grief into work - both running our own businesses and a non-profit in honor of our little brother. Life truly is what you make of it. The bravest thing I ever did after losing my dad and brother was to keep living.