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Unresolved Grief

As the person who accepts most of our potential client initial calls, I can assure you that I have heard more sad stories than you could ever imagine.

I've had unwed fathers call about girlfriends who are scheduled for an abortion, and the fathers wonder if they have any rights to the unborn child.

I've listened to wives cry as they describe the end of their marriages and the toll taken on the kids.

I've talked with men who complain about the amount of child support they are paying to the mothers of their children. One caller told me about a large gift of money he paid to his child's mom, and he was asking me if he could get that gift back since the baby had recently died.

Often, people spill their stories before I even have a chance to ask any questions. It's almost as if they need someone to talk to, and there I am to take their calls. And listen.

Recently, I've spoken with more than a few people who, when describing how their marriages have fallen apart, mention a death that the spouse just never seemed to get over. Often it's a child, and the circumstances are tragic: cancer, accident, suicide. The deaths were years ago, but the grief seemed never to abate.

In the 60s, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross did ground-breaking work in the field of psychiatry and psychology, especially as it pertained to terminal patients. Her Five Stages of Grief theory has been widely accepted by the medical community, and her books have helped many, many patients facing death, as well as their loved ones surviving them.

The Five Stages of Grief, as defined by Ross, are denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. None of the stages are in strict order, nor is there any kind of time constraint on them. However, if you or someone close to you have never progressed out of any stage or to acceptance of the death of the loved one, then likely the grief felt may become unresolved.

People who get stuck are likely to feel guilt, despair, and emptiness, and they may express it in withdrawing from family and friends, addictive and reckless behavior, as well as avoidance of certain places and situations that may bring up memories. Physically, fatigue, sleeping problems, pain and loss of appetite may be present.

If this sounds familiar, it really is, because getting stuck in grief sounds very much like major depressive disorder or clinical depression. Whether you are observing this grief in another or experiencing it yourself, talking with a trusted therapist or priest, pastor or rabbi may prove helpful. Connecting with family and friends for meals or coffee also can bring relief. Recognize when your loved one or you are getting less able to cope with daily life, and if you find yourself at a breaking point or an emergency situation, get to the nearest medical facility right away.

Grief is normal and healthy when a loss is experienced. Moving through the stages is critical to feeling whole again. Becoming stuck and hopeless is a danger sign. Ask for help.

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