Listen: Deb Rae chats to Dwayne Jeffries about the grieving process
If there’s one rule that goes with grieving the loss of a loved one, it is simply this: there aren’t any! Especially when it comes to how long someone’s grieving should last.
That’s one of the many pieces of advice from author Deb Rae who, after grieving the death of her own husband, wrote a book for other young women going through the same experience.
Titled Grief to Peace for Young Widows, her book tackles bereavement from first-hand experience, covering questions like how to talk to children about death, handling your racing thoughts, and getting through milestones like Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries alone.
In an interview with Hope 103.2’s Dwayne Jeffries, Deb offered advice on how to help a friend who is going through the grieving process. She said that in Western societies “we’re not very good at talking about grief or dealing with people who are dying or have died”.
“We struggle to be able to support someone because we think we need to know what to say or what to do,” she said.
How we Handle Our Grief
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Deb said that grieving is a very individual experience for everyone, but in many cases can be very isolating. In fact 49 percent of women who’ve lost a loved one feel alone in the journey, she says, despite the ‘connectedness’ that social media offers.
She added that while women tend to have more mechanisms in place to handle their emotions, both men and women need time and space to grieve.
“For women it’s much more acceptable to cry and to be upset, whereas for men that’s not so socially acceptable,” she said. “It might look like anger which is more acceptable for men in our society, or it might mean that they bottle it up and try to hide it in some way.”
“Grieving is about expressing your emotions so we want to make sure that we do have that opportunity, whatever the emotion is – to be able to express it in the way that we need to.”
How to Support Your Grieving Friend
One of the keys to supporting a friend who’s going through grief, is to be there for the long haul, and not expect them to ‘get over’ or heal from their pain in any particular time frame.
“There isn’t a time frame,” said Deb. “Grief doesn’t end after the funeral or after the first year or after the third year, it’s something that we learn to live with and integrate into our lives. We live in the present but that loss becomes a part of us.”
“So when we expect people to stop, then we’re trying to tell them to do something that’s impossible. It’s just about giving them the space to grieve in the way that they need to without putting any expectations on them.”
And we don’t need to try and fix our friend’s pain, either. In fact it’s best not to.
“We often think that we need to have the answers or try and find a way to fix it,” Deb said. “We don’t want to see our friends and family in pain so we try and find a way to stop it. But really we can’t. The person that’s grieving needs to be able to grieve. The best thing we can do is just be with them.”
“Thank God, I’m Not Crazy”
When Deb lost her husband it was an unexpected and devastating loss. She was a young wife and mum, and was travelling overseas with her husband when he was killed in a freak road accident.
Being so young, she felt extremely isolated in her loss. The isolation was compounded by the fact that she lived in a country town.
“I live in regional Queensland, I didn’t know anyone who was a widower and never met a young widow…so it was very isolating. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I wondered how long the grief would last or if the pain would ever end.”
“It took me a very long time to call myself a widow because it really affects your identity. I didn’t know how not to be married. I didn’t know how to be by myself. I considered myself strong and independent; widow can sound weak, vulnerable and a victim. I had to re-evaluate myself and re-identify my purpose.”
While Deb tried to get advice from reading books, it was talking to other women who’d lost their husbands that really made a difference for her.
“When I finally connected with someone I thought, thank God I’m not crazy,” she said. “The experiences I am having are relatively normal.”
If you’re struggling or need someone to talk to, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.