Saturday, January 9, 2016

Death and grief: my observations

Death is a natural part of life. It is the part of life which everyone knows will happen but no one really wants to think about it. My life has been touched by death in ways it touches everyone with the deaths of my grandparents. I’ve also been touched by death no one expects with the death of a child. There are natural reactions to death: the feeling of numbness, the reduced ability to concentrate/focus, the sudden need to cry or even not being able to cry. People often suffer from disturbed sleep patterns with recurring dreams or nightmares involving their loved ones. Grief is an internal process and, in my experience, an unending process. When grief seems to have subsided, there will be a moment, a reminder which will open the floodgates again. However, there is a time in your life when you are able to live with the grief, to function as you did and remember your loved ones with fondness and nostalgia. When does the show of grief or remembrance become more for attention than just for remembrance?

Grief can be so intense that it leads to mental illness. Most likely manifested as clinical depression which could require therapy and medication. Abnormal grief or complicated grief can manifest itself in persistent and consuming grief which could increase risk of other illnesses such as high blood pressure, cancer and stroke. The preliminary criteria, as set by the 1997 convention led by Holly Prigerson, as the intense daily yearning and preoccupation with the deceased which leads to the inability to adjust to life without that person. Treatments for depression and PTSD have helped people with complicated grief. . One that many people fear and shocks them to the core when it happens. Even when the death is expected, it can shake some off their foundation. Majority of people can “move on” and reestablish their lives in a new reality. Others continue to live, as the song says, “stuck in a moment” unable to adjust to a new reality. It does not matter if the death is expected to due age or a long illness or sudden due to a tragedy or an accident, the death of a loved one is sad. But for some people, death is devastating. In my own grieving process, I have met women who fit this category. Women, especially, who seem to live happy and ordinary lives until the grief becomes too much and it stops their lives in its tracks. Debilitating grief which brings everything crashing down.

In recent years, I have known a few people who cling to their loved ones’ memory as a way to get attention. It seems wrong to express grief for the sole purpose of gaining attention. Attention-seeking behavior can undermine the grieving process and the individual may never fully grieve. The “performance grief” is often for an audience of people willing to feed the cycle of intense grief. People with “performance grief” may use their “grief” because they like the attention. The like the constant visitor or even the cooked meals which often occur as support for the mourner. These people will “remind” others that they lost a loved one. Some may do so because they like the attention when the death first occurred and bring up the lost loved one for continued sympathy and attention. Attention-seeking grief sounds like a form on Munchausen Syndrome, attention-seeking personality disorder. Munchausen Syndrome is a predominately female disorder in which an emotionally immature person with narcissistic tendencies, low self-esteem and a fragile ego has an overwhelming need to draw attention to herself and be the center of attention. A sufferer will most often capitalize on, exploit and exaggerate an illness, injury or personal misfortune. In recent years it has been seen in women who pretend to have terminal cancer in order to gain sympathy and financial benefits as people, out of the goodness of their hearts, will give support. In the instance of grief, it could manifest in someone who will use the death of someone as a crutch and plea for constant assistance.

How can you tell the difference between complicated grief and performance grief? It may seem hard to tell between the two. In my research and my own experience, it seems to be a little clearer. While I would not accuse anyone of performance grief, I have my suspicions of what can be for attention, especially with social media. First, the constant reminders of the death of the loved one. I’m not talking about the occasional “This reminded me of my mom. How I miss her” or “I came across this picture of my dad. I miss him so much” posts. To me, it is the posts written directly to the loved one as if he or she can read it from heaven. It is not the remembrance of the loved one on their birthdays or anniversaries. It is the post after post of Second, performance grief can be seen in comparison of grief manifestations. It’s the “I’m sadder than you because I am doing this” or “I loved the person more because I cry longer and louder than you.” The death of the loved one becomes all about the mourner and not the deceased. Third, it can be the over-the-top grief for someone that an individual barely knew. For instance, when a distant relative dies and an individual wails and carries on which can be seen as excessive. It can also be seen when a beloved celebrity dies. Some fans act as if the celebrity was their closest friend.

By now, you have probably asked how I or we can judge how others grieve. Grief is a very personal process. Some are very vocal and some are very silent. Grief is a lifelong process in which you never “get over” the death, you learn to live life with the loss of this person. However, when someone’s grief turns to gain and attention rather than the loss of the loved one, it becomes excessive. In my experience, when someone uses grief for attention and becomes excessive, people may tune it out and miss the real cries for help. You may also say “Hey, don’t you post about the losses of your babies?” And I do. However, it is usually for the benefit of someone else. Many of you may not know but I am a mentor for women who are fresh in the grieving process. I often post in support of these women who grieve in silence and shame due to the taboo of miscarriage and infant loss. It is not for my need for attention or for further sympathy. It is my hope to use my journey as an example so that they know that they are not alone. I suppose that is the difference that I’m looking for. Performance grief is often for the benefit of the mourner while other manifestation can be used for the benefit of others. I think we can all think of someone who may perform their grief for attention. I may be wrong. This is just my observations.