I remember being surprised when I began studying Grief Counseling, about what research indicates is the most difficult periods during the first year following a death. The times when grief will rear its ineffable pain are: 1) at the end of the first week; 2) the three month mark; 3) holidays; and 4) the one year anniversary. The one that was surprising to me is the three month mark.
The practical explanation is that much of the personal support given to a bereaving family fades at around the three month period. Those who were initially stopping by, perhaps preparing meals, randomly sending cards, phone calls, texts, and emails return to a semblance of normality with their own lives. For the bereaved, it is like taking training wheels off of a child's bike. There is a silent understanding (albeit not intentional) that it is time to start adjusting and finding your new normal.
I also believe that the "three month mark" is a natural milestone that typically produces a change of season. At that juncture, the intrinsic part of you is reminded that the earth (and therefore life) is continuing. It is a time when you are forcibly reminded that even though your personal world is shattered, the natural world continues deliberate on its course. It feels as though your battered self is being pushed forward on a road you do not want to travel, where there is no compromise or negotiating. The natural order of time does not stop for your grief and its cruel reminder is unconscionable.
As we accompany those in grief into this space of confusion and emptiness, be reminded of these specific time periods that can be more difficult. In addition, let's not forget that everyday after the loss of a loved one has the potential to be a difficult day. Here are some guidelines and suggestions of ways to help:
Don't be afraid to ask "how are you doing?", it won't make them feel worse.
If you can't coordinate a meal to deliver, give a gift card to their favorite restaurant or fast food place.
During your visits, share your memories of the deceased and be sure to use their name. It is a very comforting gesture.
Be a good listener, you don't have to have an answer for everything; sometimes just knowing someone is hearing you can be the best solution.
Remember that everyone grieves differently, be careful not to have expectations about what it looks like or how long it takes.
That being said, be aware of signs of depression that may require professional help. If, after the three month mark, you notice the person experiencing these symptoms, it may be time to suggest professional counseling:
1. Difficulty functioning in everyday life
2. Neglecting personal hygiene
3. Sleep or eating disruption (too much, not enough)
4. Isolating from people
6. Excessive anger or bitterness
7. Drug and/or alcohol abuse
8. Feelings of hopelessness
If a grieving friend or family member talks about suicide at any time, get help immediately. Call 911 if it appears immediate, or if less definable, call Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255).
It is a privilege to provide support and information. Providence Counseling Center is staffed with trained counselors to assist with these various stages of need for those who are grieving. We also can provide support for those who are helping others through grief.
Brenda Stutler, LMHC
Certified Grief Counselor