Podcast: Grief Is Not Just About Losing A Loved One

During the holiday season we are overjoyed by the colorful lights, music and delicious food prepared by our family and loved ones. Although many of us get in the holiday spirit we often remember our loved ones that are no longer here to celebrate with us as well as the people in our lives that are miles away and cannot be present during this time of year. We begin to think about how times have changed and how much easier things appeared to be when we were younger.


During this podcast Ben Solomon, Owner of Right at Home-Seattle sits down with Medical Center grief and loss services social worker, Carol Kummet and assistant professor of General Internal Medicine and instructor of Palliative Care, Dr. Kathryn A.V. Schlenker “Dr. Katty” to talk about grief, and how it is about more than just losing loved ones. The panel explains that grief is a never-ending process of figuring out how to continue living after something of extreme value for us changes drastically. Ben, Carol and Dr Katty discussed the importance of understanding grief by debunking misconceptions and getting though difficult challenges, so that we can be empowered by being equipped with the right tools to approach the different challenges that grief presents.


Grief can be experienced differently, and we can sometimes confuse grief with other conditions such as depression or anxiety. This is because we are used to associating grief with the loss of loved ones. It is important for us all to understand that grief can come from losses, change, and challenges that disrupt our life significantly. 

A joyous event like childbirth can bring many changes that contribute to the feeling of grief. Although, the parents may appear happy with the new baby and the challenges that come along with raising a child, they can become sad and grieve about the life they had once had and cause them to feel guilty for having this thought in such a precious moment. 


An event that is stressful can bring grief feeling that are hidden in other reactions, when a family member that now has a reduce ability to get around and is no longer able to have the same participation as before in family business, can create a difficult reality for the family that was used to relate to this person on certain ways, so the family caregiver can feel anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated seeing the person they love decline and not able to leave the life they wanted, so they can have reactions that surprised them and are due to the feeling of losing control and incertitude.


As we can see grief is not only related to the death of loved one, there are lot of situations where we grief,  and also there is not an exact moment to grief, a situation can happened and not affect us right away but only when we come to terms with reality, or we can even grief before the event happens, and have anticipatory grief, for example when we are dealing with the end of live of a loved one or even for ourselves,  even when there is no dead yet the situation that come ahead  can cause grief, this can be very physical, like loss of appetite, change on sleep patterns, overwhelming feelings.


There is no exact time or measure to how a person can grief, validating the feelings and understanding the surrounding facts around a situation are the first step to understanding the right tools to empower a person going to this difficult process and helping them continue the path to heal.

Ben, Carol and Dr Katy discussed the different terms around grief, Grief and mourning are often confused, grief is the response of lost, through physical changes, feelings patterns that have different intensities, while morning is adapting to the lost so end up being an expression of grief, the most common way of mourning is actions like rituals, in their talk they uncover another term that is  bereavement is about the experience of lost and there was something really special on the description of the word “To be rob”.


When talking about it they clarify that definition help us have context but that in reality the person that is going through this difficult time is not thinking of definition, but particularly for the guest on the podcast, the experience of the people they help daily and a couple of people hearing it to edit, this definition is enlightening and helpful cause it helps to feel validated, that the feelings are not part of being crazy and hang on the past, but a normal and valid expression of the loss they are experiencing.

Since they are working in palliative care, losses have to be address early on sometimes the illness might be cured however the patient and their family might lost their jobs, finances due to care expenses could be lost, family dynamics change, and there is even body changes, all of this impact on how they experience life and grief, so the first thing the team does is acknowledge this  is common, expected and not new problem, letting the patients know and understand this, so they can be present in this process and help support the patient through it.


One of the main things they discusses is the importance of being present, as humans when we see a loved one or another hurting we want to be useful, to do anything to make that stop, we want take care of it and fix it but what is helpful is being present cause people have to feel everything the sorrow, this can be presented in a different feeling like guilt, anger, sadness it can bring tears, lack of concentration, mispronouncing words, sleep more or less, spiritual questions, existential questions and what the team around that person has to do is validate those feelings and help the person on how to find joy without person.

There is a process in grief, discussing the process from the palliative specialist perspective, they work with an interdisciplinary team, they take time to acknowledge the grief, talk about it, and let the patient feel everything but being present to help them adjust. The idea of closure is outdated so the goal is not to get closure but to learn to connect to people and nurture the relationship, there was a wonderful and deep quote display “a death ends a life but not a relationship”. 


There was a story they tell that shows really well how to connect to people, an older women that had very bad hearth failure at could die at any point since there is a lot ups and downs, talked about loss with them and what brough her meaning, she is the historian of the family she knows everything, so they came up with the idea and  help her do legacy work and develop genealogy book that included storied about every person, they work with her on this for the  coming years each time she had a difficult time and added more people and finally completed it she was still living so they help her with the idea to make the family recipes hearth, looking that even when she was not going to be around she will still be impacting the life of the family each time they make recipe, so they continue with the relationship and help her have meaning in the last stages of her life.


If we see our loved one having a difficult time copping with diagnosis of a disease, first step is engaging them about conversation about their life, asking them questions, being curious and helping them with ideas where they can link their interest with the relationships they have. Some patients write, record audio, or make video, these are easy tools at home that can help them to share important things about their life. It can be hard conversation to start but after the first step can help to feel seeing as more that an illness, starting that human conversation will make them feel valuable to the people that soured them.


Active grieving is important, when is lock away the more likely thing is that physical outcomes like diseases, sleep disturbance, irritability come to the surface. Grief is common and expected and if we do not allow it, if we do not work through it we do harm to ourselves.


For More resources go to any local hospice, they have brochures and counselors, for more writing information go to Whats your Grief - A Grief Website for the Rest of Us or Home - Center for Loss & Life Transition, you can also get these book that discuss how to engage on the process of grieving  Safe Passage: Words to Help the Grieving Hold Fast and Let Go by Molly Fumia and Beyond Grief: A Guide for Recovering from the Death of a Loved One by by Carol Staudacher

Ben Solomon
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