Thursday, March 20, 2014

Death and Burial- Part 3 (Spirit)

For the new readers, I tend to break personal things down into four categories- Body, Mind, Spirit, and Soul. Things other than personal I categorize by how many people they affect (Team, Tribe, Territory). That's just how I deal with things, I'm not going to demand that you follow my example.

In Part 1 I covered the "Body" side of death and burial; basically, how to dispose of a body in a respectful manner.

In Part 2 I covered some of the "Mind" side - I laid out the information on how to determine if someone is dead and went through the stages a body goes through shortly after death.

Today, in Part 3, I will be going over "Spirit". Spirit is separate from Soul in my view. The difference as I see it is that Spirit contains the mental/emotional health of a person, whereas Soul deals with the undying part of us that makes us human and leaves the body at the time of death.

Part 4 -Soul is a touchy subject that will have to cover a wide variety of faiths, as well as atheism. Look for it in the near future, but not any time real soon - I'm still doing research.

Grief and Mourning

There is a difference between grieving and mourning. Grief is what you feel inside; mourning is how you express those feelings to the rest of the world. They are both part of a journey towards acceptance of the loss and the continuance of your life, albeit without the one who has died. Each journey through grief and mourning is unique and has no road map. There is no "proper" way or path to grieving and mourning, no 10 step process to go through before you're "all better" or "over" your loss.

Grief. Grief is part of being human. It exists because we have the ability to love and we are all mortal. The combination of those two things dictates that we are going to have to deal with the death of those that we love. The depth of the felt grief will vary according to a host of factors:
  • The relationship you had with the one who is gone. Generally the closer and longer the relationship, the stronger the grief will be. This is why the death of even a distant aunt or cousin has more of an impact than the death of a dozen people you've never met on the other side of the world and the death of a true friend can hit harder than that of a family member. The death of a leader can have an extra impact because of their many roles in your life.
  • The circumstances of the loss. If the loss is sudden and unexpected, expect to feel grief more intensely than if it was after a long illness. The death of a young person is usually seen as more of a tragedy because of the unfulfilled potential they represented.
  • Your cultural background. Those of us who live closer to the production of food tend to view death differently than do those who think that meat and eggs magically appear in the grocery store.
  • Your religious views and the religious views of the one who is gone. If you believe in an afterlife and are content that the one who died has fulfilled whatever requirements their religion has for admittance to a better place, their death will be easier to accept as a transition rather than an ending.
  • The support system that is available after the loss. If you have compassionate friends and family around you to help you, the journey will be easier. Being surrounded by selfish, negative people will only make things harder to work through, but that applies to more than just grief.
  • Other stress in your life at the time of loss. Obviously if you are already under stress you will be more likely to be hit hard by a death or find it difficult to deal with.

Mourning.  The outward expression of grief will vary as much if not more than the feelings of grief themselves.
  • Cultural aspects of mourning vary greatly. Despite our inherent bias towards our own culture, we should at least try to accept that other people are going to mourn in other ways. Americans of northern European decent (especially men) tend to be stoic, trying to internalize their grief and not show any signs of "weakness" by outwardly mourning a loss. The Irish may throw a wake to celebrate and remember the life of the one who died. Women are generally allowed to grieve more openly than men.
  • Religious beliefs will also be a factor in mourning. Many religions have routines or ceremonies in place to provide "approved" methods of mourning. These may include specific time periods for different stages or rituals of mourning, clothing to be worn or not worn during mourning, and covering of mirrors in the house of the deceased.
  • Dressing in black for a period is common, but in some parts of the world widows will wear black for the rest of their lives (generally in the Greek Orthodox Christian areas). In some Asian cultures, wearing white as the color of purity is the norm for mourning.
  • Most people in mourning will withdraw from society to some extent. This is normal, but can be taken to the extreme point of cutting all contact with others. 
  • Social acceptance of the relationship you had with the deceased. There are a variety of forms of relationship that society may not approve of but that does not lessen your feeling of loss or your need to mourn. This is changing, slowly, in America with the inclusion of "special friend" as a relationship in obituaries, and "domestic partner" getting legal status in many states.

How to Help a Friend. The crew over at The Art of Manliness covered "how to help a grieving friend" quite well. To recap their article (It's a short read, go to the link for details.):
  1. Don't minimize their loss
  2. Don't try to divert them from their loss
  3. Don't be afraid to talk about the deceased
  4. Don’t be afraid of causing tears
  5. Do let them talk
  6. Do reassure them
  7. Don't isolate them
  8. Do some tangible act of kindness
  9. Don't let them drop out of life
  10. Do get them out of themselves

How to Help Yourself. Here's the hard part. I'm not a self-help guru that's here to tell you how you should grieve or mourn. I may be a Chaplain, but probably not your Chaplain. There is no right way or wrong way to mourn and the grief you'll encounter is very personally yours.

There are some basics, but situations are far too variable for me to say what will help you and what won't.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat, even if you don't feel like it. Get as much sleep as your body needs. Drink plenty of water, especially if you're crying a lot. Exercise is a good way to relieve stress, so hit the gym if you can.
  • Remember the deceased. Talk to others who are mourning the person who died. Share memories of your times together. Keep something of theirs to remind you of their presence in your life.
  • Don't be afraid to cry. Tears are natural and healing. If you're not comfortable having others see you cry, find a place where you can be alone to let them flow.
  • Visit the deceased's final resting place. Talk to them as if they were still alive, it may help you settle some of the turmoil in your mind.
  • Accept help and support from others. Reject condemnation and negativity from anyone who is not sharing your grief. 
  • Offer help and support to others who are grieving.
  • Be aware that healing grief takes time and that it may pop back up after you thought you had it under control.

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