"I think [mourning] is a combination of things," she said recently. "You have to learn to deal daily with the fact that that person is not there. The other part, the hurt or anger, is something that pops out occasionally. Dealing with death takes time."
She is not alone. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 2,366,000 deaths were reported in 1999. Each death creates a ripple in society, leaving family and friends to deal with a barrage of emotions ranging from anger to denial to depression.
For Civile, her lingering feelings of anger and sadness have been the hardest to overcome. "I was angry [with my grandfather] for dying," she said. "I wanted him to be there for my wedding, great-grandkids. I guess in a way I'm selfish. I wanted him to be there for me, not for him."
Fortunately, there are various bereavement groups run through area hospitals and churches. Resolve Through Sharing (RTS), a fetal bereavement support group, is run out of Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen. There is also a bereavement group for children. Other groups can sometimes be found in the calendar listings section or health section of the Reporter newspapers.
Dealing with loss is very stressful, says Secaucus psychologist and nurse Kate Waldren. If left unresolved, feelings of loss can quickly turn from stressful to destructive.
Linda Barker, a bereavement counselor for Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, says she relies on the Kubler-Ross model to help the members of Resolve Through Sharing (RTS), the fetal bereavement support group she co-founded six years ago with her co-worker Kathy La Bode. According to the model, grief consists of five distinct stages, defined by the Swiss-American Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., in her book On Death and Dying. The book has been embraced widely by the mental health community as a model for the stages of grieving. The stages are shock/denial, anger, depression, bargaining and resolution/acceptance.
"The Kubler-Ross [model applies] to everyone," Barker said. "It's just that people tend to go through them at different [cycles]. Women [seem to] go through [them] faster than men." She clarified, "Men tend to hold everything in. They don't want to show [that the loss] is bothering them as well."
"Some people throw themselves into something like working too hard to distract themselves from their feelings," Waldren said. "Others get into alcohol and drug abuse to numb the feelings and others withdraw into themselves ... which can be pretty destructive."
Many psychologists agree that stress can lead to illness and injury. According to a popular study on stress conducted in 1969 by Dr. Thomas Holmes and Dr. Richard Rahe, the top life stressors center around loss. Their Social Readjustment Rating Scale measures stress on a 100-point scale, with the death of a spouse rating the highest (100 pts.) Divorce ranked second (73 pts.) while the death of a family member followed in the fifth spot (63 pts.)
The scale, Waldren says, accurately measures the degree of stress each life-altering event can produce. She also said death and divorce can produce similar reactions. "People go through very similar emotions which can involve anger and sadness [and a] bargaining stage," Waldren said. "They experience regret, [saying] 'If I had done this that or the other, this wouldn't have happened.'"
The most important step to finding resolution, Barker says, is to talk about the experience and release the anger. She says a support group can help accomplish this. In the case of RTS, she says, patients are given the opportunity to confront their anger towards those associated with their loss. "They need to get their anger out at the medical staff. Then we find ways for them to work through [their loss]," Barker said.
Waldren agreed that support groups can provide answers and encouragement for those dealing with grief. "Support groups help [others] understand what they are going through is normal," she said. "[They] reinforce that idea that other people have experienced this as well. And sometimes other people [in the group] are far along in their grief work, so they can see that [grief] can be resolved," she said.
Waldren warns in the case of fetal bereavement, a loss commonly unresolved, parents should allow themselves to experience each stage of grief. "One loss is a loss," she said. "Another pregnancy does not replace [this] loss. It's a mistake to think you can minimize the grief of one experience because you can have another experience." For those who want to deal with their grief privately, Waldren recommended working one-on-one with a professional therapist. "During a therapy session, you can hear from a [professional] that [your feelings are] normal and [you] are going to get through it," she said.
For Civile, the loss of her paternal-grandfather was heart wrenching for her parents and she found herself not wanting to turn to them for support. "I thought my dad had enough to deal with his dad dying," she said. "I didn't want to put another stress on my parents."
Civile's situation, Waldren says, is where support groups and one-on-one therapy prove particularly helpful. "[In a family] there is frequently a fear that 'I don't want to upset everyone else,'" Waldren said. "So, having a place where you can go [to talk] and not worry about that is very helpful," she said.
To get more information on RTS, call 854-5198.
A group for children
While children and teens experience loss similarly to adults, their expression of these emotions may differ drastically. "You'll see difference in the [child's] behavior before they talk about it," said Secaucus psychologist Kate Waldren. "You might see changes in [that] they may be acting out their anger by getting angry at everyone else, or they might act out their sadness by withdrawing."
The Rainbow Program, an international organization that began in 1983, recognizes that children need programs specifically designed to address their unique situations. Sister Alberta, program coordinator for the Jersey City chapter that meets at St. Anne's Catholic Church, feels that the program addresses the key issue of loss facing America's children. According to the State of America's Children Yearbook 2000, published by the Children's Defense fund, one in two will live in a single parent family at some point in childhood.
Sister Alberta says the program, which spans 12 weeks, allows children, teens and parents to separately explore and express their feelings of loss. "The program deals with in any loss in life; it doesn't have to be death," she said. "[St. Anne's] felt like there were a lot of children that more or less came from a one-parent home...We tried the [program] out for a year...it was very successful."
Waldren agrees that adult guidance, particularly from a parent, is critical for children dealing with loss. "By a parent actually bringing [loss] up, it gives [the child] permission to feel," she said. "It is very powerful to show [a child] that you can have difficult feelings and move through it. Feelings are like waves. They'll come, they'll peak and they'll recede. They won't last forever and they really will not destroy a person."
For more information, contact Sister Alberta at 656-2490.