The senseless murder of 26 people, 20 of them children between age 6 and 7, deeply wounded our nation, our leaders and us.
The New Year is a time when we look toward the future, to new beginnings, a clean slate and resolves to make this a better year than the last. So writing about grief is the last topic I would prefer to cover now. But sadly we cannot choose the time when tragedy strikes our nation or ourselves.
Grief has been in the news lately as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is about to be released. Ten thousand psychiatrists who met in groups beginning in January 2010 developed the manual. Every mental disease is characterized and the criteria needed to make a diagnosis documented.
Most controversial is the recommendation by a group of psychiatrists who suggest that grief should be labeled a disease after as little as 2 weeks. This condition is referred to as "abnormal grief," "prolonged grief disorder," "traumatic grief" or, most frequently, "complicated grief."
Virtually every grieving person experiences profound sorrow and sadness, disbelief, loneliness, anger, insomnia, inability to concentrate and an unwillingness to engage in normal conversation. Grief may express itself through crying and wailing or complete silence and withdrawal.
The key question is: how quickly should a mourner no longer grieve? Labeling grief as an illness after as little as two weeks may lead to inappropriate and excessive use of antidepressants (that are not without side effects) and the recommendation for grief counseling that has been shown to be of little value in the healing process except for those with mental disease.
The late Elizabeth Kubler Ross was the first to describe characteristics of profound grief. First comes denial (this cannot be happening to me), then anger (we must blame someone, ourselves, God). Next is bargaining (if only things get better, I promise that I will do something in return), then depression (profoundly glum, do not want to be involved in life, and even have thoughts of suicide) and finally acceptance (understand that death is part of the circle of life and, despite the loss, become peaceful and able to function fully in the community).
With acceptance comes gradual recovery.
Death, like birth, weddings, celebration or illness, is a natural part of life. But whenever death comes, it is always a traumatic and life-changing experience for those left behind.