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Loss & Grief

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The text for this section on 'Loss & Grief' is taken directly from the book 'Mental Health for Rugby League'

 Written by John Mathison


 



As I write this book, the media has just reported the tragic loss of four (4) lives in a horrendous motor vehicle accident. Those who lost their lives were young, vibrant people whose bright futures were before them. Three (3) young men & one (1) teenage girl enjoying post new years festivities. The reason I mention this tragedy is that the young men involved were all from the same Rugby League Club and all hailed from my old home town of    Warwick, on the Darling Downs in Queensland. The impact of their deaths upon their families, the club, their friends & teammates and the community at large has been immense.   

 

It struck me that little time is given to the psychological & emotional preparation for the loss of someone’s life. Counselling & intervention is always offered after the fact, as of course it should. I am not suggesting for a moment that anyone could have been prepared for this incident and even if they had, the extreme sadness & anguish would still have occurred. 

 

What is important, however, is the need for an awareness of the fragility of life and the reality that people do actually lose their lives. This may occur in any number of ways, though loss is loss. Some are more sudden, tragic, horrific, unbelievable and unfair. 

 

It is essential to grieve; to feel the pain; to cry; to ‘get angry’. It is expected, though you’d do anything to avoid feeling that way. It is not pleasant and not enjoyable; it is necessary though if ‘healing’ is to take place. 

 

I have experienced the loss of both my parents and I know the feeling of being immersed in sorrow. They did not pass away in the manner in which these young people did and many may say that “it’s not the same”. To this I would reply no it’s not; but I still grieved, I still miss them, I still hurt. To compare the manner in which loved ones die and apply that to the level of emotional grief and suffering permitted to be experienced is unfair & unjustified. Do we grieve more when someone suicides? Do we grieve less when an elderly grandfather peacefully passes away in his sleep? Is it worse when a ‘good person’ dies and not that terrible when a ‘bad person’ dies? Does a sudden death equate to more grief than a long drawn out death? 

 

The ability of an individual to experience less traumatic grief after a loved one passes away is contingent upon one’s capacity to mentally explain, justify, validate & rationalize. With an elderly relative who quietly ‘slips away’ after a fruitful, long life, it is much easier to cope with the loss. 

 

This all depends upon the individual experiencing the loss as well. No two people are the same and no two people would be expected to react in the same way. We all have different personalities & differing levels of relationships with those who have died. There are those who grieve for ‘higher profile’ personalities who’ve died, yet have never met them. Their knowledge of them is based on their portrayal, profile and exposure by media. 

 

Suffice it to say what is important is the reaction and emotion experienced by the individual. Whether it is justified or not, in the minds of others, is irrelevant. 

 

Loss and the grieving process do not have to apply only to ‘loss of life’. It can also relate to those who have lost limbs, lost mental capacity, lost movement in their legs, arms etc. There are those who’ve become blind, deaf and mute. Others may have lost custody of their children, lost their career, lost their occupation; even lost their beloved pet. As stated before, loss is loss & grief and grieving is a consequence. 

 

This section on loss & grief does not offer ‘quick-fix’ solutions. It is included in this book so that any subsequent mental health problems such as ‘depression’ might be averted and dealt with preemptively & proactively before the illness ‘takes hold’. It offers explanation & education as to why you might feel this way and an attempt to ‘normalise’ the experience. No one should ever feel weak, guilty or ‘abnormal’ for feeling distressed and reacting in an emotionally charged manner after experiencing any loss. 

 

By way of illustration of the possible outcomes of grief & loss involves yet another motor vehicle accident also in Warwick. A car of young people crashes; the only survivor is the young driver. He recuperates in hospital and not long after going home suicides; one tragedy resulting in another tragedy. Unresolved grief is dangerous. It can literally destroy lives. 

 

Please click here for details of the 'Grieving Process', as developed by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (eminent american psychiatrist in the 1950's) & widely accepted as largely accurate and generally definitive. The stages of grieving do not apply to everyone and do not necessarily have to occur. Don’t feel as if you haven’t grieved properly just because you haven’t experienced each or any of these reactions and the related stages of grief. How you respond &/or cope with loss is totally individual and not for others to judge. Sometimes people carry the guilt and sorrow of, not only the loss, but also the belief that they were somehow callous and unfeeling for not having reacted the way they were expected. 

 

For the Rugby League player, the need to understand the grieving process is important. You will, no doubt, experience the death of someone close, whether it is a parent, sibling, child, partner, close friend or teammate. But there are other types of loss you may also experience. 

 

 

 

  • Retirement (particularly forced retirement)   

 

  • Non renewal of contract   

 

  • ‘Sacking’ from club   

 



 

 

 

‘Loss & Grief’ are a fact of life. Understanding why & how doesn’t make it any easier. There is nothing that can totally prepare you for this experience; nothing that will prevent it occurring. Being aware of what is happening or probably going to happen will at least enable you to know that it is ‘normal’ & to be expected. It will also help you understand and help others who may find themselves weighed down by the experience.

 

 

 

 

Things to help you cope with loss & resolve your grief 

 

 

  • Express your sorrow – your grief – cry, scream, let go… 

 

  • Communicate your feelings with your loved ones or those with whom you are close. Be careful, however, that they are not used as targets for the expression of emotional turmoil. Those who love & care for you are not be 'punching bags'. The peril of this occuring may well result in further 'loss'; through relationship destruction. 

 

  • Do not feel guilty for how you react or respond to your loss. 

 

  • Keep a journal – write down your feelings, your memories & the stages of grief as you pass through them etc. 

 

  • Take time to rest – try to get sufficient sleep. 

 

  • Attempt to maintain a healthy diet. 

 

  • Do not feel ‘required’ or ‘expected’ to react a certain way. 

 

  • Take time to work your way through your grief. 

 

  • Be aware of some of those reactions to loss that can be potentially ‘negative’ – blame, anger, aggression. Do not necessarily suppress them; though don’t let them ‘take hold’ or 'consume you'. 

 

  • Seek help if you feel things are getting ‘too much’ or you are unable to cope or if you feel significantly depressed. Similarly, if you feel you are ‘stuck’ in a particularly stage of grieving, seek out someone who can ‘help you move on’. 

 

  • Try, as best as possible, to avoid ‘self imposed’ social alienation. Do not ‘shun’ your friends & family and do not ‘lock yourself away’. 

 

  • Try not to seek solace or comfort in substance abuse ie. drugs and/or alcohol. 


 

 

 

 

 

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Should you have concerns regarding any issue relating to your 'mental or physical well-being', 'Kick off' strongly recommend you seek professional assistance. This may entail contacting your GP or similar clinician (Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Counsellor etc.). You may also contact the appropriate agency or service that might assist you. Irrespective of your choice, ensure you see someone who might help.  

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