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Cheri Yarborough

Ask Dr. Cheri

Cheri Yarborough has a PhD in Psychology and worked for 14 years on a social services helpline in Milwaukee, Wis., and for 13 years as a trauma counselor. Readers may either e-mail her questions directly (cyarborough@earthlink.net) or send a letter to her c/o CCN, PO Box 232, Berryville AR 72616. Readers are encouraged to send questions on any subject from relationship problems to how to get along in the world. Letters will not be answered directly; instead, several will be chosen for this column, and they will be answered within the CCN pages in that manner. Letter-writers will not be identified by their real name.

Opinion

The curvy road of dealing with grief

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A friend of mine recently had several emotional blows -- one after the other. Four months ago, her best friend died of breast cancer. Then three weeks ago her mother was felled by the same adversary, and to conclude the trilogy of grief, a week ago her stepfather suddenly became ill, went into hospice and died within a few days.

I've counseled those going through the grieving process, and it is a long and sometimes arduous task for even the hardiest of souls. Everyone grieves differently, but the steps set forth by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross seem to be the most accepted: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

In recent years, other health-care workers have added guilt and reconstruction. It doesn't matter which list you subscribe to, it can be hard work either way. Some don't feel up to the task, and the malaise that can ensnare the griever can frighten concerned family members and friends.

Just as everyone approaches life differently, everyone grieves differently, and there's no right or wrong way to do it.

It's a part of our learning process to figure out how to cope with the world and its stressors. The stages may come and go in no set order and reappear after many years or decades. It's a part of the process of putting meaning to our lives and maintaining some sort of order.

The current powers that rule diagnostic labels are trying to establish whether the depression during the grieving process needs to have its own label, and whether medication is warranted after a two-week bout of depression.

I for one feel as though that is a rigid and sweeping assumption about the human condition. I think a shutting down from time to time is a sign of good mental health. Of course, there always needs to be a few people to check in with us when we disengage with the world to make sure we're still OK, but without a time of self-reflection and dealing with conflicting emotions, we would not have the human qualities that make us the complicated species we are.

Redefining ourselves and our life's path after sorrow helps to put our life in perspective and as the old saying goes: "What does not kill us makes us stronger."

My best advice for someone grieving is for them to ask themselves on a regular basis, "What do I need right now?" If the answer is to hear the loved one's voice who died, it is possible to revisit an event or conversation in your mind that was particularly poignant. Tears may come, but they can be a part of the healing process.

I would encourage anyone to find a trusted friend or counselor to talk with to help with the grieving process. If that's something that seems too personal to share with anyone else, I would suggest keeping a journal to write down thoughts and conclusions. Then, if more help is needed, please ask for it.