I was giving a virtual talk last week about older adults mental health when one of the participants ask an insightful question about depression and grief. It was along the lines of how do I know when to encourage someone to get professional help for grief. My answer was when it interferes with daily activities, relationships and going to work or school. When it becomes so overwhelming a person could benefit from some professional help in coping with intense emotions.
So, how do I even know anything about grief and depression?
Because I have experienced both very intensely. Because I have studied both in my efforts to heal.
It was July 2001 when my father lost his battle with brain cancer. It’s fresh in my mind because a dear friend is experiencing a similar situation. Her stories have sparked my own deep emotions about a time when I had to come face-to-face with mortality- my fathers and my own.
Losing loved ones by any cause is very difficult. It’s beyond sad. Really I think the loss of that conscience person’s spiritual presence in our everyday lives may be the most painful.
But the spirit does live on. I think about the spirit in ways that move me emotionally. The fond memories of experiences and life lessons learned. The joy and happiness of hearing my dad’s truck pull in the driveway or the engine of the red Farmall tractor chugging up the lane.
My daddy taught me many things. How to hunt and fish. How to drive a tractor, take care of animals, bail hay, mark rows in a garden, but what I admire most was he taught me how to help others and to be a good friend.
His death began a two year period where my family would journey through losing six beloved family members.
You feel emotions and pain until you just can’t stand it anymore. You shutdown to survive. But the grief burrows deep inside. Healing comes in segments and bits and pieces.
I was a little surprised at how intensely my tears sprung up when I learned about my friend’s beloved father-in-law who is dying from cancer. I could feel her pain and it reminded me of how helpless I felt.
Loss in many forms can cause grief and grief can trigger depression. It’s very human to be sad, angry, bargain, depressed and accept as the Kubler Ross Stages of grief suggest.
But grief doesn’t start and stop. It flows with us and takes on many forms. It resurfaces with intensity around holidays, birthdays and other reminders. To deny loss of any kind doesn’t hurt is akin to lying to ourselves. Not being honest with ourselves about our emotions makes it harder on our mental health.
I remember praying to God to please take away the pain and sadness. It was overwhelming. What helped me through the grief and later through my depression wasn’t any one thing. It was many. Sometimes there are no simple solutions to complex situations.
Of course playing in the background for me was a little added stressor called bipolar disorder, which as you can imagine even more complicated my healing pathway.
What I know for certain are these few things:
1) Grief isn’t a straight linear process. It’s more like a winding journey on an old country road.
2) Healing is possible. No matter how big the losses are.
3) Professional help along the way can apply a salve for emotional wounds.
4) Compassion for ourselves and others fuels strength.
5) Holding on for just one more day is the hope that helps us cross the bridge and see the light shining even in the midst of darkness.
To all those who are experiencing losses of any kind I send you great compassion and empathy. The mind is powerful but the heart heals the soul.
Peace be with you.