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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Grief - A Universal Human Experience


My wife of 31 years, Lynne, lost her life to glioblastoma in 2010 following a battle lasting almost four years against the deadly disease. Glioblastoma is a stage 4 brain tumor, known for its fast-growth and recurring properties. As her primary caregiver, I learned much about the disease and the other issues surrounding the care of someone facing a life-threatening illness. This article covers the topic of grief, a topic that is relevant to each of us at some point in our lives. I hope that the lessons I learned will help someone else navigate through the grief process.
Grief is a universal human experience that will affect every one of us at some point in our life. Although grief is universal, each person prepares for grief, experiences grief, and recovers from grief in unique ways. There are guiding principles that we can apply to our grief but your recovery is unique to your circumstance. You may judge yourself. You might feel as though you recovered from grief too quickly. You might feel as though your grieving is lasting too long. Just keep in mind that your grief is as individual as you are and so is your recovery. It is also natural to believe that others are making judgments about your grief. While that may be the case, your grief is your path, which may look very different compared to the path of someone else.
My grieving process started at the point of Lynne's diagnosis, not her death. The week following her diagnosis, I spent nearly every evening shedding tears and agonizing over the future that lay ahead. Thoughts of unfulfilled dreams and goals circled my mind numerous times throughout each day. As I researched the disease, the certainty of Lynne's eventual death moved to the forefront of my mind. I tried to balance those thoughts with the hope that Lynne's case might be different in some way, but it was an internal struggle.
Like any couple, we held onto the hope that our plans for the future would remain intact. We discussed goals throughout our marriage about retirement. We shared about the continued ability to travel. We shared thoughts about the enjoyment of watching grandchildren grow up. We discussed our dreams of a slower paced life hoping to enjoy the simpler things in life. Those kind of things we tend to take for granted in our younger years as we focus on building our lives and careers. In one day, the plans and dreams we made together seemed to shatter like a glass hitting a tile floor. Forever lost with no possibility of ever putting the glass back together.
About six years earlier because of my responsibilities as a deacon at the Sun Valley Church of Christ, I enrolled in a course to help me enhance my skills and abilities as a people helper. As a people helper, people often approached me to share personal struggles. I desired a better foundation of knowledge to help me guide them through their struggles. A few of the classes within that course of study helped me to prepare for what was ahead in my own life. One class covered forgiveness, letting go of the past and the pain. Another covered marriage and keeping the love alive. Another covered pain and suffering, for learning to help people in a hurting world. Yet another covered managing stress and anxiety. The most important class that would bear on my own future was a class about grief and loss. While my intent was to learn about these topics to assist others, the importance of that learning helped me to understand the emotional turmoil that I was facing and some techniques to help me manage my way through the pain.
Grief is a universal human experience. However, the experience is unique to every individual. In some ways, my grief recovery was assisted by learning from other people and I hope that by sharing my personal experience that others will also benefit. I am writing several articles covering various aspects of the grieving process including grief models, anticipating grief, and preparing for grief.