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Identifying Loss and Grieving: Managing Your Healthcare

Article posted on Wednesday, September, 29th, 2010 at 8:40 am

There is that moment where you are sitting in the medical office, and the Doctor begins, “There seems to be a problem with…” or “The test shows an abnormal result…”   And the train leaves the tracks.    Depending on how much information you have been armed with prior to this conversation, this could be when your crisis begins.

Through personal experience and observance of others, when the train derails we grieve.  We don’t understand.  We cry.  We get angry.  We may become resentful of healthy people around us.  We ask, “Why Me (us)?”  Most people believe that grieving is what happens when someone dies.  This is not the only time we grieve.  Dr. Pauline Boss is a counselor and professor from Minnesota who has done ground-breaking research on the theory of ambiguous loss and the grief caused by it.

In her book Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, she discusses examples of situations where we experience ambiguous loss: dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, MIAs , incarceration, terminal diagnoses, a parent who leaves a child, and permanent medical conditions.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five basic stages of grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  You won’t necessarily go through these stages in order and you may experience some simultaneously.

Take this information and go back to that moment in the doctor’s office.  As you receive the news, you enter the first stage of the grieving process.  Denial can be disguised as disbelief.  And truly, it usually is unbelievable to you that you could be receiving this news.  Your mind fires questions at you that usually start with ‘Why’ and fear of what lies ahead can overwhelm you.

Denial can quickly turn to anger.  In the anger, questions like “Why didn’t we check it out sooner?” or “Why didn’t you take better care of yourself?”, or “Why is this happening to me (us)?” might pop into your mind.    You are caught in the middle of an indefinable loss from which you may or may not find closure.  You may never have the answers to these questions.  You grapple with the loss of what you used to have or the loss of innocence.  You can’t try to go back.  You have to proceed with courage.

When you feel your train fly off the tracks, the best advice I can offer is this: Seek knowledge, seek interaction, seek respite, and seek joy.

Posted By:
Carrie B. Potter, NBCC
School Counselor, South Carolina Counselor Association (SCCA), South Carolina School Counslor Association (SCSCA)
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