The death or loss of a loved one is an inevitable hardship every person must face. With the high rates of trauma for First Nations people, some of us are losing more than one person to death in a span of a few months.
When we lose someone we love it creates a huge gap in our lives that can never be replaced. Speaking from personal experience, I recently lost a parent and I am having to go through grief.
My dad, Armand J. Fiddler, died in his sleep while at home on the Waterhen Lake First Nation on November 4, 2017. Our family and relatives were devastated because his death was so unexpected. I was devastated, because although he was sickly from weekly trips to kidney dialysis he began this past summer, I expected that he would live a lot longer than he did.
I heard somewhere that it takes a person a long time to grieve. Most of us have heard about the five stages of grief; which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (as described in an article by Julie Axelrod).
Denial happens when we deny the reality of the situation, block out words and hide the facts to rationalize our overwhelming emotions. As denial wears off and reality and pain set in, anger occurs. Anger may be aimed at anyone or anything: inanimate objects, strangers, friends and family, even the loved one we lost. We feel guilty for being angry and this makes us even angrier. Bargaining happens as we attempt to regain control through a series of “if only” statements, which leads to feelings of guilt. Depression is marked by sadness, regret, worrying and also involves quietly preparing oneself to separate. And finally, acceptance is a feeling of withdrawal and calm; it is accepting that we must go on without our loved one.
Every person copes differently with grief and loss. With nine siblings I can see how this is true. All of us brothers and sisters each have a different way of coping. Some show more emotion by crying while others cry less, some spend time around others for comfort and others prefer to spend time alone, some use prayer and ceremony while others use alcohol and addictions to cope.
For myself, the experience has been a combination of factors. It’s been especially difficult during Christmas and New Years holidays. Every New Years Eve I would get a phone call from my dad after midnight, he was the first person to wish me a happy new year. This year my phone was silent and I was overcome with a feeling of extreme sadness.
I find that for myself, self-care is important when dealing with grief. For me this means a lot of reading and writing, smudging daily, talking on the phone with family, and regular exercise. Self-care means being able to tap into my own resilience.
Psychologist, author and University of Chicago professor Gerald Egan, says that everyone has some degree of resilience that enables us to get up, pull our self together, and move on once more when going through difficult times in life. He says that some ways that we can tap into our resilience include using personal care factors. This means that we can rely on support through friends, family, or other special relationships. As well, we each have different kinds of intelligence that can help us in our coping: book smarts, people intelligence, street smarts, etc. In any case, it takes the ability to discuss feelings, avoid self-blame, and use the energy of anger to cope with the world rather than damage oneself.
Our resilience can be affected by the ways we exercise personal control in our life and our personality strengths. Tapping into these factors can help us better deal with grief and the loss of someone we love.
Egan says that resilience is deep inside a person, it’s already there, and to do well with it takes a lot of determination, courage, and struggling. But it’s every person’s choice.