News of Robin Williams’ death on August 11, 2014 has sparked a national focus on themes of depression, suicide, grief and loss. Although many did not know him personally, his career in acting, involvement in social causes and philanthropy touched the lives of millions around the world, as reflected in the outpouring of sadness and shock noted in social media and news outlets.
For individuals who have personally experienced the loss of a loved one, especially when the type of loss can resemble a tragedy highlighted in the media, this can bring up his or her own feelings of grief and loss sustained in their own lives.
Counseling experts at the Center for Compassionate Care of The Elizabeth Hospice have shared that grief knows no boundaries or timeline. Just as grief is an individualized experience for each person, young and old, feelings of grief can ebb and flow based on events, holidays, or news of the day.
The following suggestions are coping tips for survivors, particularly those who are experiencing the sudden loss of a loved one:
SUGGESTIONS FOR SURVIVORS: GRIEF AFTER A SUDDEN LOSS*
• Know you can survive; you may not think so, but you can.
• It is okay to ask “why” it happened until you no longer need to know “why” or until you are satisfied with partial answers.
• All your feelings are normal even though you may feel overwhelmed by their intensity.
• Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy, you are mourning.
• You may feel angry at your loved one, at the world, at God, at yourself. It’s okay to express it.
• You may experience thoughts of suicide. This is common. It doesn’t mean you’ll act on them. Don’t be afraid to talk about it with a trusted person.
• Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.
• Find a good listener, counselor or group with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.
• Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing.
• You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do. Guilt is a natural response, talk about it.
• Give yourself time to heal.
• Remember, the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence on another’s life.
• Try to put off all major decisions.
• Be aware of the pain in your family and friends.
• Be patient with yourself and others who may not understand.
• Set your own limits and learn to say no.
• Steer clear of people who want to tell you what to do or how to feel. In particular, those who think you “should be over it by now.”
• Call on your personal faith to help you through.
• When grieving it is common to experience physical reactions, e.g. headaches, stomach aches, loss of appetite, inability to sleep.
• To be able to laugh with others and at your self is healing.
• Know that you will never be the same again, but you can survive and even go beyond just surviving.
• It is not easy but you can forgive and have a meaningful life.
• The path of grief is one of twists and turns and you may often feel you are getting nowhere. Remember even setbacks are a kind of progress.
Although it can be difficult to do, it is important to reach out for help when feelings of grief, loss, or anxiety become overwhelming and impact your quality of life. Contact your health care provider or other resources such as the National Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the San Diego Access & Crisis Line: 1-888-724-7240.
In addition, the Center for Compassionate Care of The Elizabeth Hospice offers resources, counseling for those impacted by a serious illness and grief support services to the community-at-large. For more information, visit http://www.cccforhope.org or call 800-797-2050.
*Adapted from Suicide and its Aftermath
(Dunne, McIntosh, Dunne-Maxim, Norton et al, 1987)