About The Author
Dave Morgan, Ed.D., LMFT, is the author of this week’s blog post on grief. Dr. Morgan is a core faculty member in the marriage and family therapy program at Lipscomb University and formerly held the title of Director of Testing Services for the Lipscomb University Counseling Center. He received his Doctor of Education degree from Vanderbilt University. He is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Clinical Fellow with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. In addition, he holds the designation of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Master Practitioner.
A Tragic Loss
On a Saturday morning several years ago, my best friend of over thirty years joined a club that no one wants to join. His wife, also a cherished friend of mine, passed away without warning in her sleep. Young, energetic, seemingly full of life...and she just did not wake up that morning. A husband, three young children, a church, and an entire community were left to grieve.
My mind raced as I traveled to be with my friend. By the time I arrived at his house, much of the community was already on the scene; every room was full of concerned friends and family. I made my way to the back porch where I found my oldest and dearest friend, surrounded by loved ones, sitting on a swing trying to absorb the reality that should not have been. As I sat beside him on that swing, through long silences and immeasurable tears, he asked me a question: Is any of your education helpful right now? It wasn't. And I told him so. Then we sat together on that swing for a long, long time.
For years following that tragic loss, that same friend and I presented a session on grief as part of a university-sponsored lectureship. We asked the attendees if they agreed with the old saying that time heals all wounds. Over 90% did not. What we found, upon further discussion, is many of us take issue with the idea that time, in and of itself, is a healing agent. Indeed, there may be nothing supernatural in the mere passage of time. What time can do, however, is allow space for healing to occur. Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) identify several positive outcomes which can develop as time passes following traumatic loss, including:
- An increased appreciation of life in general and a sense of what is really important,
- Closer and more meaningful relationships,
- A general sense of greater personal strength,
- An identification of new possibilities for a person’s life, and
- Spiritual growth.
According to the authors, “this is an ongoing process, not a static outcome” (2004, p. 1). As opposed to something that can be achieved quickly, those who are grieving may have to sit for a long time as life returns to a new and different normal.
Following the January 2011 shooting of 19 people, including U.S. Representative Gabriele Giffords, in Tucson, AZ, an article entitled New Ways to Think About Grief was published in Time Magazine. The author, Ruth Davis Konigsberg, provides a valuable history of how we have come to think about the grief process, including the original context of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's development of her well know stages of grief (i.e., denial, anger, bargaining, depression/sadness, and acceptance). Regarding the notion that we proceed through grief in a series of predictable steps, Konigsberg cites the Genevro (2003) report commissioned by the Center for Advancing Health which "concluded that the information being used to help the bereaved was misaligned with the latest research, which increasingly indicates that grief is not a series of steps that ultimately deposit us at a psychological finish line but rather a grab bag of symptoms that come and go and, eventually, simply lift." (2011, p. 2).
Such has been my experience with grief. Many of the challenging emotions we associate with grief— anger, sadness, confusion, fear— will come, though not necessarily in any foreseeable pattern. And there may surprisingly be comforting moments of peace, hope, or even joy in the midst of the grief process. The emotional swings can be disorienting and represent the only constant in the otherwise unpredictable grief process.
Space on the Swing
Sitting through a season of grief requires patience with one’s self. Swinging through the unpredictable experiences of grief requires grace for one’s self. Those who are grieving can help themselves by refusing to rush through grief and not forcing it to fit a paradigm. Of course, it also helps when grief is shared. So there’s space on the swing for those who will extend patience and grace, who won't minimize losses or force others to meet false expectations, who are willing to sit and swing for a long, long time.
(The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the author alone and do not represent those of J. Gregory Briggs, Ph.D., LMFT. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this post are not guaranteed. I, J. Gregory Briggs, accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with him.)