Unresolved Grief
can be Destructive!

Eusoffe never got over the death of his wife!

Star Cover Page on 12 Jan 1996.

We must not underestimate the destructive potential of the pain a grieving person is going through, especially when we have not experienced the loss of a loved one ourselves!

Many people in mourning do not receive the support they need to overcome such pain and they become trapped in their grief. This pain
will later surface as the underlying cause of serious physical and mental problems. According to studies conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital, 10 to 15 percent of all the psychological problems of patients at their mental health clinic are caused by unresolved grief (Lazare, 1979). : 

A prominent psychiatrist states that the loss of a loved one is psychologically traumatic to the same extent as being severely wounded or burned is physiologically traumatic (Engel, 1961). Depending on the extent one goes through the grieving process, “recovery can range from a complete return to the pre-existing state of health and well-being, to partial recovery, to improved growth and creativity or … permanent damage, progressive decline and even death” (Simos, 1979).

Feelings of sadness, disorientation, numbness, anger, guilt, loneliness, nervousness, helplessness and the like are normal for people in mourning. Physically, they may experience insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability, vomiting, breathing problems, headaches, muscle cramps and rapid heart rate among other symptoms. Cognitively, they may be in a stage of denial, confusion, absentmindedness and preoccupation with intrusive thoughts of the death. It is not unusual for grieving people to become easily startled, overly vigilant, outburst in anger or withdraw socially and lose interest in the outside world.

 

In journeying through the normal grieving process, the mourner needs to embrace the grief to the full and not bypass the pain. Sigmund Freud called this “grief work”. For instance, denial needs to be actualised with acceptance of the death, sadness and anger expressed and not suppressed or displaced, guilt confronted with reality testing, loneliness counteracted with social support while escapist or other maladaptive behaviours are appropriately addressed. This “grief work” is best accomplished by the facilitation of trained caregivers suited to give such support.

When personality, relational, circumstantial or social factors hinder the satisfactory completion of the grieving process in which proper support is lacking, unresolved grief can turn chronic or pathological. This means “the intensification of grief to the level where the person is overwhelmed or remains interminably in the state of grief without progression of the mourning process towards completion”(Horowitz, 1980). In other words, the grief can be further prolonged, delayed, exaggerated or masked

One of the most notable cases that shocked our nation was the suicide of a former Supreme Court judge, Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcadeer, who shot himself 3 years after the death of his wife. The coroner ruled that he took his own life due to masked depression caused by unresolved grief.

There are 3 lessons we can learn from Abdoolcadeer’s case. One, speedy and healthy recovery from grief can be facilitated by proper emotional and social support while unresolved grief due to the lack of such intervention can turn chronic and destructive. Two, grief can be irrational, no matter how smart we are. A widow was referred to GGP and her friends objected on account that she is a highly-educated intellectual and so she can take care of herself. Abdoolcadeer graduated with first-class honours from the University of London. Three, we cannot sidestep the pain of grief. The grief-stricken “master of the intricacies of law” tried drowning himself in legal work until his moment of truth. We know of many people who are doing exactly the same: digging deep into their work to avoid the pain of their grief.  

 
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