By KATIE BORKOWSKI, Communications Specialist, Lumen Media

Posted with permission from Lumen Media, Diocese of Sioux City

Grief is natural and normal, but some of the faithful in the Diocese of Sioux City may be experiencing grief in a new way with the change in parish status, loss of a business or change in demographics.  Darla McEnroe, LMSW, NBCC, the clinical supervisor at the Catholic Charities branch in Fort Dodge, explained grief is about “a broken heart not a broken brain.”

“Grief is natural and normal, but we all have been ill-prepared to deal with it,” she said. “As grief is a normal reaction to death, divorce or other common loss experiences, even if they are positive, such as graduating, moving or marriage. The problem has been that we all have been socialized to believe that these feelings are abnormal and unnatural. They are not.

Grief is the conflicting feelings someone can have caused by the “end of” or “change in” a familiar pattern of behavior, said McEnroe. “We can grieve for all relationships we deem significant,” she said, adding one thing in common with types of grief is “how people try to heal grief. One common response is to try and heal it with the head instead of the heart. It’s just the wrong tool for the job.”

In the smallest of areas, there might have also been the loss of a public school, post office, grocery store and the like in their communities along with the change in a parish’s status.

“Society has not always seen these other areas of loss, including loss of trust, safety and control over one’s environment as grief, but it is still felt deeply,” said McEnroe.

Signs of grief

While each person is unique in how they grieve, some common responses are:

  • Reduced concentration preoccupation with emotions.
  • Sense of numbness, both physical or emotional and it can last several hours.
  • Disturbed sleep patterns.
  • Change in eating patterns.
  • Roller coaster of emotional energy, both up and down.

“These may or may not happen, each person is unique, but all are normal,” said McEnroe. “There are helpful and unhelpful responses to grief and most of us have been taught the wrong things or incomplete responses. Incomplete grief can be because you have not allowed yourself to feel all of your feelings, just as they are.”

Incomplete may also include not being heard and listened to, not allowing time to remember all memories, not processing by talking about it and not finding the right information about grief, for yourself and others, McEnroe said.

How to help

Some may wonder how to help those who are grieving including helping themselves when needed.

“Let them know that although we cannot always control what happens to us, we can choose to do something about it,” said McEnroe, who recommends “choosing to educate yourself on the grieving process and doing your own work first, before helping others.”

She pointed out being strong for others “is not helpful if you have not role modeled the correct process.”

McEnroe added other actions that are not helpful include “acting as if everything is fine, getting stuck in all good or all bad memories, thoughts and comments or saying it doesn’t bother you along with pretending you are fine, feeling numb all the time or losing a sense of aliveness or happiness.”

The clinical supervisor noted some good responses to grief would be finding someone to talk to honestly or write true feeling even if they are uncomfortable.

“Express all emotions as they are to yourself or one other trusted individual who can just listen and be present with you,” she said. “Allow feelings to just be and move through them. Do not try to fix them for self or others, this only prolongs them and makes the grieving process longer.”

To help move towards the future, McEnroe suggested setting time aside to read the Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman.

“Complete the steps advised to set up meetings together as a parish, work alone or with a trusted friend or therapist,” she said. “Watch out for short term relief in way of avoidance by working, numbing through substances, food or other distractions. Take recovery into your own hands and develop an action plan.”