My brother was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma last June and passed away from the disease 3 weeks ago. Even though we live in different states, during his illness I broke my neck and did everything I possibly could to get him the best possible care and to ensure that his quality of life was as good as it could be all the way up to the very end. It was, of course, a very stressful time for everyone in the family. I knew that I was stressed and grieving (and I did take care of myself as best I could) but it wasn't until after he had passed and I had done all the necessary paperwork that my stress and grief REALLY hit me. I guess I'm one of those people who is able to push my emotions into a corner of my mind and get on with what needs to get done. I suppose that is a characteristic of all of us caregivers.
From time to time over the last 9 months I have seen a very good grief counselor. She is very experienced in hospice work and she seems to "get" me and how I operate mentally and emotionally. I saw her the other day for the first time since my brother died. I told her that I was doing OK. Yes, I get overwhelmed with sadness sometimes and start to cry some. But it passes quickly and I get back to doing a lot of things that I have let slide over the months (house cleaning, grocery shopping, freelance work, etc.).
By the end of the session she said that she did not think that I was "doing OK". She said that 3 times during our session I had gotten all choked up and fought back tears. People who are "doing OK" don't behave that way. I replied that I thought that type of behavior was to be expected when one was grieving. I figured that it would take time for the intensity of the feelings to subside. One just had to be patient and get through it. She said, "No". She said that the only way to really get through grief was to talk about it and cry about it for as often and as long as necessary. Rehash the same upsetting memory again and again if necessary until the grief is gone. It doesn't have to be with her; I could relive the memories and express my grief with my spouse or my family or with my close friends. But her advice was to do so in order to experience emotional healing.
That approach is foreign to me. In my family, we keep our mouths shut about distressing emotions. If you start feeling badly, distract yourself, change the topic of conversation, push the emotions away. Letting it out, rehashing and reliving the stressful past and anticipating the unhappy future, or crying openly in front of other people is shameful and just makes you feel worse. No good can come of it.
So now I don't know if I should trust this therapist and continue seeing her for periodic "crying sessions" or whether I should do what I have been taught to do by my upbringing and experience-- stiff upper lip the whole thing. Since this is my first experience with losing someone close to me, I can't imagine how to do things differently from the way that comes naturally to me. I can't imagine how emoting all over the place will help me. But maybe I'm just suffering from a lack of imagination here. Maybe I should try it the therapist's way.
This is where I could use your input. In your experience with grieving (either now or in the past), have you allowed yourself to frequently talk about and cry about your loved one and how sad you are that they had to endure the misery of their disease and how much you now miss them now? Do you think that's a healthier approach than just pushing your grief into a corner and getting on with life? Is the emotional end result-- say 6 months or a year later-- any different with the two approaches?
I would appreciate hearing about your experience and insight.