Dealing with Loss…with Death

August 2017. Originally copyrighted and posted in "Type for Life" by the Center for the Applications of Psychological Type, Gainesville, FL. Used with permission.

I just got the news…another friend has died. Patricia was an ENTP who was raised in the foster care system in England. At one point, an ad was put in the newspaper, "Difficult child needs academic home." She got one and became both a brilliant architect and a brilliant judge. Yes, ENTPs do change jobs and careers more than any other type.

I'm also in the midst of planning a memorial service for my Dad, an INTJ who died at the age of 102 and who had the satisfaction of seeing many of his ideas on nutrition finally accepted as correct. Yes, INTJs have the longest future-orientation of the 16 types; he knew trans fats were bad back in the 1950s and he hung on long enough for others, including the FDA, to see that as well. (See my article, Lessons Learned from my INTJ Father. You may also search for his name, Fred A. Kummerow, and read his obituaries in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune.)

Synchronicity appears once again in my life - I attended a conference recently in which one of the presentations was on Grief and Loss. The presenter was Timothy S. Hartshorne, a professor at Central Michigan University and a college classmate of mine many years ago.

As he pointed out, "learning how to deal with loss is what life is all about." Our life is a series of losses, some small (my doll broke) and some large (my Father died). You cannot escape loss.

Tim continued:

  • Grief is a journey
  • Grief is individual
  • Certain emotions predominate
  • No one describes it the same way.

He pointed out that healing:

  • Is a long-term process that culminates not as a return to a pre-grief state, but as a growth process
  • Includes thinking of the person without pain but not without sadness

He adds: "Asking when mourning is finished is a little like asking how high "up" is — there is no answer." *

If you are in a work setting, think about how much time off a grieving person needs and the level of support you can provide. Be aware that the return to work may be difficult and check on what might be helpful. Be aware that there may be questions related to meaning and motivation at work.

With friends, the feeling may be of wondering if anyone really understands what you are going through. And your friends may be wondering what to say and not to say.

Many people feel awkward about bringing up a death, being afraid to say the wrong thing or to make the survivors sad. They are already sad.

Say something to the person: bring it up. Share a memory, a story about the person. Ask for a story. Tell what the person meant to you. Watch the non-verbal signs - they will give you clues for how far to go. You are likely to be forgiven even if you stumble.

However, please don't say things like, "It is better now that they are no longer suffering." Or "They are in a better place now." "It's part of God's plan." "Cheer up."

And with your partner or spouse, figure out how to support one another. Be aware that there may be changes in the relationship.

How does one learn to cope with grief?

  • You experience it
  • You get support from others
  • You tell your tale
  • And you might go to therapy

Tim looks at each year of grieving in these terms:

  • Year 1: A year of firsts and disbelief
  • Year 2: A sinking in and coping with the reality of the loss
  • Year 3: Getting used to it and good at it
  • Year 4: Starting to move on
  • Year 5: Healing over the wounds

Life goes on. I have been blessed with wonderful parents and wonderful friends. I have lots of memories to sustain me. And I will experience many more losses in my life, and hopefully get through them, never expecting to get over them.

* From Worden, William J. (2002) Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy; A handbook for the mental health practitioner. Springer Pub.