I smell the home-cooked meal prepared by my parents
I smell compassion
I smell kindness
What do you smell?
I only wish you could smell what I smell
I smell blood in your hands
I smell fear when you come near
I want to ask you why
I taste the sweetness of being alive
I taste the joy of solidarity
I taste hope
I taste truth
What do you taste?
I only wish you could taste what I taste
I taste the bitterness of being silent by you
I taste the sourness of swallowing pain
I want to ask you why
As an Asian American mental health worker, it absolutely breaks my heart to see my own community being attacked. These attacks do not only cause physical harm to the victims but also psychological harm that we often do not see from the outside. According to Mental Health America, experiences of race-based discrimination can have detrimental psychological impacts on individuals and their wider communities. The month of May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, together let’s raise mental health awareness in the AAPI community. Now more than ever, we must take care of our mental health. Please reach out and do not suffer in silence. You and your mental health matter.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
Losing a loved one may shatter your life. You may feel numb. You may feel that you can’t think straight. Every heartbreak that you have suffered previously may hit you full force, simultaneously. At times, the pain can almost paralyze you.
Be patient with yourself. Healing from grief is a slow process. It moves, not at the tempo of technology, but at the tempo of agriculture, as slowly as plants grow. But as you heal, you may discover in yourself new strengths that were not there previously.
In my case, my mother’s death forced me to re-examine my identity and my purpose in life. This exploration eventually led me to seek a master’s in social work. I discovered that my interests include caring for older adults, persons who are nearing death, and persons who are grieving.
Each experience of grief is unique, as unique as you are, and as unique as your relationship with the person you lost. But there are some patterns that humans share. It helps to learn these patterns, as they will help you understand yourself and other persons.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief
This was the first research model of grief, and it is still used. People do not go through the stages in a neat, sequential way. But they usually experience all 5 emotions, and move in a gradual, bumpy way from shock toward healing.
Denial (shock)—This is the emotional equivalent of an airbag in a car. It protects you from feeling the impact all at once, which could be overwhelming.
Anger—You may protest and feel, “This is terrible! This shouldn’t have happened!”
Bargaining—You may think, “I’m trying to regain some control of my life, when I feel so out of control. If I change my life in such-and-such a way, then I should feel less bad.” A religious person may make deals with God, such as, “Dear Lord, if I start teaching Sunday school, You should make me feel less awful.”
Depression—This stage is not well-named. It’s not depression, but it can look that way. There is a general withdrawing from activities and social life, a conserving of energy. The person may feel powerless, but not hopeless. They are starting to come to terms with the loss.
Acceptance—At this point, you may feel, “This situation stinks. I don’t want it this way. But it’s reality, and I am going to acknowledge it and deal with it as best as I can.”
William Worden’s 4 Tasks of Grief
Again, people don’t go through these tasks in a neat, sequential way. There may be setbacks and cycling. But there is a gradual movement toward healing.
Acknowledge the reality of the loss. State that the person is dead. Describe how it happened, how you learned, and what you saw.
Experience the pain. Face it. Don’t try to pretend that it doesn’t hurt much. It does. Don’t try to dull it out with alcohol.
Adjust to an environment without the person there. The longer that people are in relationship, and the more closely their lives are intertwined, the more adjusting needs to be done.
Withdraw some emotional energy from that relationship and invest it in another relationship. Be careful! You can’t replace one person with another. (We all know a grieving widow or widower who remarried out of loneliness, but chose altogether the wrong person.) Some marriages and other relationships aren’t happy. In this case there may not be much emotional pain after the death. Or there may be intense pain, as the person grieves for a relationship they craved, but never had. Sometimes a loss leads to a new project. A mother whose child was killed by a drunk driver started MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), to try to prevent this tragedy from happening to others.
Corr & Doka’s 5 dimensions of grief
Physical—You may feel cold. (When we feel threatened, blood flow goes to our inner organs, and we feel cold.) You may get sick, since grief weakens the immune system.
Spiritual—Grief may impact your belief system.
Social—It may be hard to socialize, as some people may misunderstand you, or say clumsy things.
Cognitive—You may have poor attention, poor concentration, or difficulty learning new material. Some children who are grieving are diagnosed incorrectly as having ADHD. When these children heal from grief, they do not show ADHD behavior. (This research study was my professor Dr. Helen Harris’s doctoral dissertation.) Some older adults who are grieving fear that they have dementia; but when they heal from grief, they can think just as well as they did before the loss.
Alan Keith-Lucas’s study of children’s resilience after a loss
Shock and denial: After a significant loss, every child experiences shock and denial. Then there are 2 different paths:
Protest: If the child is allowed to have and express the feelings, “No! This is unfair! This can’t be!” then the child can achieve “mastery,” becoming stronger than before the loss. The key is for the child to learn to express their feeling of anger in a way that doesn’t hurt themself or anyone else.
Despair and Detachment: If the child is not allowed to protest, the child falls into despair and detachment. These children are not troublesome. However, as adults, they may not function very well. They struggle to keep a job or stay in a relationship.
Books—Some of my favorite books about grief are:
Doka, Grief is a Journey
Neeld, Seven Choices: Finding daylight after loss shatters your world
O’Brien, The New Day Journal
Wings of Change Publications, The Nature of Grief: Honoring and Healing the Seasons of Loss.
Are you currently grieving?
We experience grief not only when a loved one dies, but also when we lose anything that is important to us, such as our health, a job, or a treasured relationship. If you are grieving, it would be my honor to share your journey with you. Grief is too hard a journey to travel alone.
[I wish to thank Dr. Helen Harris and Dr. Richard D. Grant, Jr., for teaching me the above material.]
There is no doubt that we are living in unprecedented times, especially now that we have approached one year since COVID-19 arrived to the US. This virus has required us to adjust to so many things at once: uncertainty, constant change, fluctuating emotions and, unfortunately, how to cope with the loss of loved ones, friends, and family. For many adults, death is an unfortunate concept we have had to come to terms with at some point in our lives. However, with children experiencing the devastating effects of COVID-19 every day, death has become an unavoidable topic. The intense grief these young children have felt because of the loss of an immediate or extended family member can be especially difficult for them to process, especially if parents have not had the difficult conversation of explaining what death is and the painful emotions associated with it. My hope for this article is to provide support to parents and caregivers by outlining relevant information to keep in mind when helping their child process grief and loss during this pandemic.
Explaining Death to Your Child
First things first is to tell the truth and be honest with your child, but in an age appropriate way. Children do not need to know every detail of how their loved one died, but it is important to provide essential facts about what happened. Children may also need an explanation of what death is and explaining this process using clear language is key. Everyone may explain death differently, but it is important that you do not use euphemisms, like ‘passed away’ or ‘left us’, because it can leave room for confusion about the permanence and finality of death.
Death Triggers Many Feelings
Death can bring up many different emotions for children and grieving a loved one does not look a certain way. Some may cry or be filled with anger, while others may be silent or feel scared. However your child chooses to grieve, it is important that you encourage self-expression and allow them to feel and experience their grief. Experiencing anger, sadness, or any other type of feeling is a part of coping and allows your child to process this painful, but real aspect of life.
Coping with Death
Reassurance and continuation of positive experiences can help your child move forward in their grief process. Your child may be worried or scared what might happen to them or other members of your family because of this experience, but reassuring them about the precautions that you are taking to keep everyone safe is important. Resuming fun and enjoyable activities can help support your child’s adjustment, letting them know that life will continue and it is perfectly acceptable to laugh and have fun even during the grieving process. Because COVID-19 has made it difficult to say goodbye to loved ones due to social distancing protocols, it is helpful to find alternative ways to thoughtfully remember the person who died, such as a virtual gathering or the participation of a family ritual.
Books for Children Experiencing Grief
Books are not only a wonderful resource to help parents and caregivers explain what death is in an age appropriate way, but also a gentle story can provide comfort to children who have experienced loss.