August 31, 2013 has been designated as National Grief Awareness Day. When a person sees that grief has its’ own day, they may ask “why does grief need a day of awareness?” The answer can be answered through examination of your own awareness of what grief is? Chances are if you have not had a person close to you die, your grief awareness is minimal. Grief is not on the fore front of most people’s minds unless they have had a person close to them die. It is when grief is experienced that the knowledge and awareness appears.
The need for a grief awareness day has been the life work for Angie Carwright the founder of Grief the Unspoken. Her story can be read here at www.grieftheunspoke.org Angie’s story is simple. She experienced the death of a loved one early in life. These experiences she went through with family, friends, and the public brought to her attention the many traumatic experiences griever’s experience as a result of the general public’s ignorance of grief.
The need for awareness and education about grief is a fairly new phenomenon. Twenty years ago society in general did not talk about feelings, or express feelings. In fact, it was taboo to speak about how a person felt to anyone. These emotions were bottled up and kept inside.
The history of the United States has contributed to the need for grief awareness. The United States was settled by people from many cultures, and ethnic groups. Each of these groups had their own rituals and customs that helped their members cope with grief. As the United States became more integrated and homogeneous some of these customs have been lost. There is now a societal norm surrounding the death of a person.
These norms affect the language. Instead of saying a person has died, people are more likely to say the person has experienced a loss, or lost someone. The truth is the person died. It is hard for some people to even use the word death. Another norm is to say cliches instead of offering condolences with real emotions attached. Some of these cliches are “they are with god now”, “At least they are not suffering anymore?”, or my personal favorite “You have grieved enough; you should be back to normal by now?” To a person experiencing grief these comments imply that somehow the emotional, physical and psychological consequences of grief are abnormal.
Another societal norm is regarding the length of time that it is acceptable for a person to be grieving. If you are lucky you can get time off from work to bury that person. The expectation from employers and family member are that the next day the griever will be back to work and back to life as if the death never occurred. If you ask for more time off for work or are having trouble adjusting to the loss you can be labeled with a mental health disorder.
Another societal norm is the suppression of emotions regarding the death of a loved one. Most people will stop talking about the death of your loved one or stop talking to the griever all together. When they do talk about the loved one it is about how wonderful it is to be heaven. The hard feelings of guilt, depression, and sadness never are spoken of. When they are spoken, they are ignored.
In counseling many of the issues seen are due to people stuffing their feelings about grief, and other major areas of life. Now is the time to create a dialogue surrounding death, and how to help grievers’ heal. Do your part visit www.grieftheunspoken.org to become educated on grief issues.