Reflections on Death and Grief
By Trudy Friedland
Overview: Reflections on some of the lessons learnt whilst working in the field of death loss and grief.

When you lose someone, you love, there is a tear in the fabric of the universe,” writes Jodi Picoult, in her book titled “The book of Two Ways”.

Life as we know it is no longer and we are challenged to find an alternate way of living in a parallel universe, a world that expects us to get on with living whilst we carry an unbearable ache.

In my work as a Social Worker and Logotherapist I work alongside many people who have experienced unbearable losses. Many whose entire worlds have been shattered and they have been left to somehow pick up the pieces. Even though the reality of death and loss is universal, the way in which we navigate this journey is unique.

The following are some areas that I would like to highlight in this ongoing conversation around death and grief.

People often have an expectation that there is a set time frame for grief and that once you have passed a certain period you should be “better”.

  • The journey through grief I believe is forever and the idea that grief is something we get over or recover from is archaic and misinformed. Megan Devine, author of “It’s ok That You’re Not ok” says, “We need to recognize that grief and loss are not meant to be fixed, grief is carried. We need to change the narrative around loss, tending to the experience of grief not trying to solve it as though it were a problem.
  • There is no time limit on grief, the rules do not apply. Everyone mourns in their own way and in their own time there is no right way to do grief. Grief work requires an honoring of the sacredness of the work. Always moving at the individuals pace respecting their space. Giving people permission and encouraging them to “be where their feet are”.

Talking about Death is taboo in many contexts and a topic that we all struggle to engage with.

  • Death is a part of life, yet the association of death with suffering, pain and hurt; ensures that it is something we do not talk openly or enough about. We all still struggle when confronted with death and loss not knowing what the right thing is to do or say. The fear of death and the fear of further pain being inflicted is what sometimes makes it so much harder to talk about. So, we shield ourselves and our children from it, we talk in hushed whispers behind doors perpetuating the narrative that death is not to be spoken about. It would be helpful if we could find a way to ease the discomfort around death but the confronting reality of the pain sometimes unspeakable in its impact makes it a complex and complicated process.

Education and information are critical components of grief work.

  • Grief work requires an element of education information giving and guidance. Assisting those in a supportive role to provide the appropriate care. Providing information and guidelines on what to expect can be helpful in that it gives some form of structure to an otherwise overwhelming time.

Support networks and the sharing of experiences is an essential part of healing.

  • Talking and writing about death, sharing one’s own experiences can be a very comforting and cathartic process. It can also help others to not feel so alone. We all need to recognize that we do so much better when we have at least one lap to climb into. When we are at our lowest it may be the hardest thing to do to reach out to another person. Yet, connecting with others can be an anchor for us and our biggest protective factor going forward. Brene’ Brown in her book “Atlas of the Heart “writes: “The human spirit is resilient, and just as we can reclaim our ability to breathe and feel and think, we can rebuild the bones that anguish rips away. But it takes help and time.”

It is my hope that we can continue to talk more openly about death. That we can open the conversation in a real and authentic way that truly acknowledges the enormity and sacredness of grief. That we can make use of the inspired resources and information available, the shared experiences, and the personal stories. So that we are ultimately able to just sit with our own discomfort and pain AND the pain of others. Allowing a process whatever it may be to unfold exactly as it should.

Brene Brown: Atlas Of The Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of human experience:2021

Megan Devine: It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok: Meeting Grief and Loss in a culture that Doesn’t Understand: 2017

Jodi Picoult: The book Of Two ways : 2020

Trudy Friedland
Social worker and Logotherapist in Johannesburg.