Grieving takes time and attention, says reverend

·4 min read

With restrictions on gatherings, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the pain of losing a loved one more difficult, said Reverend Andreas Sigrist with Jasper Anglican Church.

Sigrist led a webinar about grieving through the Jasper Employment and Education Centre recently and there were two parts to it: how we deal with death as a society, and the personal experience of grieving.

“Grieving is isolating at the best of times,” Sigrist said. “But right now we can’t even do those kinds of things that usually help us go through the tough time of losing a loved one. Because of the pandemic, there are many things we have to move forward without, even though we wanted them very much.”

He noted how the pandemic has already caused a lot of grieving and having to deal with the loss of a loved one on top of that means “grief piles on top of grief, making it even harder to cope.”

“Most people don’t want to think about death, but we need to talk about it,” Sigrist said. “If we talk about it, it helps with the emotional resilience as a community. As a society, we have been incredibly successful at pushing death to the boundaries of our social fabric as far away as possible. But of course, this contradicts our experience of loss and grief.”

One of the factors that influences how society as a whole deals with death is that life expectancy has doubled from below 40 to over 80 years.

“We live in a culture that values productivity very highly,” Sigrist said. “So the message we sometimes hear and believe and that you have to function, no matter what. Don’t take time off work.”

The reverend noted death is like a door but we don’t see what’s behind it.

“That’s part of the problem,” he said. “(We need to deal with death) without the need for certainty, the need for a final answer”.

An important part of dealing with grief, Sigrist said, is knowing that everyone’s experience with grief is their own.

“Our experiences are different from each other,” he added. “Any emotion – sadness, anger and even just feeling nothing – are a perfectly normal response to the loss of a loved one.”

Sigrist’s own journey with grief and his thinking about what it is and how to cope were shaped by a book written by July Tatelbaum, ‘The Courage of Grieve: Creative Living, Recovery, and Growth Through Grief.’

Sigrist quoted the book as saying grief is about learning how “to move forward without someone or something we wanted very much.”

Taltelbaum wrote about spiritual bypassing in her book and Sigrist explained it this way: “At funerals, people say things like, ‘I guess we don’t really have to be sad because he or she is in a better place now.’ The notion or claim that we don’t really have to be sad allows us, or protects us, from the hard work of dealing with how we actually feel.”

He remembers when his dad died.

“Things that I usually just did all of a sudden required a huge emotional effort,” he said. “Things that I previously enjoyed were all of a sudden a burden.”

When people grieve, Sigrist said they have needs in a way that they don’t usually.

“It’s important to remember that taking care of one’s needs is not self indulgent,” he said. “Proper self care is always important (and) it is essential for grieving.”

Sigrist brought forward another quote from Tatelbaum: “Grief is a wound that needs attention in order to heal. To work through the complete grief means to face our feelings openly and honestly, to express or release our feelings fully, and to tolerate and accept our feelings for however long it takes for the wound to heal.”

“In other words,” he added, “grief is hard work. It hurts and it takes time and attention. For anyone who is dealing with the loss of a loved one right now, or if you support someone who is, please make use of the wonderful resources that we have in this community. The psychologists, counsellors that we have here in Jasper have been trained to help you.”

Those with mental health concerns can contact a 24/7 help line at 1-877-303-2642.

Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh