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People who are visited by suffering and pain often question God’s active presence and involvement in the trauma of their lives and ask: “Where was God? Or Why me/my family God? Are we as spiritual guides, caregivers responsible to supply an answer? Or does the answer lies in how we as compassionate caregivers can care and listen to each other, co-create a process of healing, meaning and hope that is respectful and inclusive. Can we empower patients and families to take ownership of their narrative in relationship to their suffering, to the meaning that they give? Without understanding and without guidance in each of these areas, family members who are forced by circumstances to cope with prolonged grief are vulnerable to depression, guilt and debilitating anxiety.

When someone we care about suddenly leaves this life, it’s not a case of taking time out to recover. ‘Recovery’ suggests that we will emerge exactly the same as we have been before. In reality, all of our experiences shape the person we are, and experiencing the death of someone we care about often has the biggest impact. A spiritual journey is about meaning, “re-membering”, a family sometimes forced to come together and unite, uncomfortable sad memories. It is about looking at life in a different way, while trying to come to terms with what had happened, learning to adjust to life without that person and finding a place to keep their memory alive while trying to get along as best as one can.

Grief is the agony we feel inside when we realise that we have lost somebody. Grief is complex. It comes in a million different forms – some people cry for days, some people get angry and lash out, other people withdraw from the world and grieve in their own private way. Grief is a family matter as much as it is an individual one. The challenges that families must face when confronted with a terminal diagnosis of a loved one are complex. They include evolving new structures and dynamics as the person they love slowly slips away. It means learning how to cope with setbacks and deterioration as well as periods of seeming remission. It means learning to make space for extended grief in lifestyles that are typically busier than those of earlier generations. Perhaps most important, grief involves confronting family issues that may have been dormant but unresolved for many years. These issues typically re-emerge as families move past their initial reactions to a terminal diagnosis and are forced to interact and work together through a process of extended grief. Finally, it means moving forward together as a stronger family after a loved one passes.

Annemien Bauermeister

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