Death is an integral—and inevitable—part of our lives. Many people pass on around us on a daily basis. Whether it’s a loved one or a close friend, coping with death is never an easy thing after realizing that this person will no longer be a part of your life.
One way or another, we would eventually have to deal with losing a loved one, as is with the vicious life cycle of humanity. How we choose to cope is up to us, but is there a surefire and effective way to cope with the death of others? What are the appropriate responses and reactions when someone passes on?
Especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, knowledge on coping with the death of loved ones is even more important than ever, as more and more families have to go through the pain of losing their loved ones to this cruel pandemic.
We asked Ms. Padma Jairam, an experienced counselling psychologist for her opinions on coping with death
Ms. Padma Jairam is an experienced consultant psychologist at The Counseling Perspective. She has years of diverse professional experience under her belt, and she runs her own website where you can seek counselling sessions with her, which you can check out here. Below, she shares her thoughts on coping with death, as well as some issues surrounding the mental health community in our generation.
DABDA; The Five Stages of Grief
Most of us may have heard about Kübler-Ross’ 5 stages of grief, popularly known as its acronym, DABDA (Depression, Anger, Bargaining, Denial, Acceptance). This self-explanatory model (which you can read more about in detail in this article) serves as a baseline of what emotions people would likely experience when going through the grieving process.
While DABDA is a good model that can explain some of the processes that people go through, Ms. Padma emphasizes the importance that it isn’t a rigid framework for what people should experience, nor is there an order to how you should experience them, but rather, it’s meant to just be a general, non-linear model.
Even Kubler-Ross herself said that there is no ‘typical’ way for one to deal with grief.
Ms. Padma also shares that it’s common for people to go back and forth between the stages, or be stuck in a particular stage of emotion. However, she adds that almost everyone ends the process of grieving by accepting the loss of their loved one.
May it be positive or negative, we each have our own personal pathways and methods of coping with the death of loved ones, and there is no determined, linear path to how we experience this grief.
“…that is what I hope people will understand. That there is no such thing as a normal way to respond to a loss. The loss is something that is personal and is experienced by different people on different levels.”
How the ‘Face-Saving’ Asian Demographic Views Seeking Professional Help as Taboo
One of the most important aspects of dealing with psychological issues such as these is to go and seek professional help when it gets too intense to handle. However, Ms. Padma agrees that most people, especially those among the Asian populous, tend to view getting professional help almost as a taboo thing.
Some may attribute having mental issues to having weak religious faith, as some Asian countries have a high level of religiousness. Some may even view those who seek professional help as being ‘weak’ and can’t handle the issues of life.
Ms. Padma shares some personal experiences that most clients were reluctant in seeking counselling because they fear that sharing their secrets and issues with a complete stranger would bring shame to their family and/or community, and often sought counselling as a “last resort”.
All in all, the ‘face-saving’ aspect within the Asian community seems to be an obstacle in making counselling and therapy a more widespread and widely accepted method of dealing with issues.
“While the [COVID-19] pandemic has been a major crisis for the world, I feel that the only small silver lining is that people are now much more open to counselling and mental health issues.”
With the coming of the new generation and their exposure to mental health issues and services through the internet, people are beginning to become more open to seeking professional help regarding mental health issues. The research found that the younger generation is 37% more likely to report receiving therapy/counselling compared to baby boomers (22%) and older adults (15%; read in further detail here).
However, this open-mindedness is still quite limited among the Asian populous. This is troublesome, as mental health issues are starting to also report lower levels of mental health, especially in today’s day and age where COVID-19 has caused many deaths. Here are some other tips on how you can manage your mental health during this pandemic.
So, what are the tips on coping with the death of loved ones?
When you’re going through the loss of a loved one, you might be confused, shocked, and in a state where you don’t know how to deal with the emotions that come with experiencing this loss. Here are some of the ways that Ms. Padma suggests how to cope with grief.
1) Speak/vent to someone that you can trust
It’s always difficult to sift through one’s emotions by ourselves. Humans are social creatures by nature, and we need to depend on each other to survive. Finding someone that you trust that you can talk to and express your emotions is important, as keeping to yourself may lead to further mental health issues and can lead into depression.
Even just having someone listen and validate your feelings is often enough to help.
Trust, in this context, is someone that you know well enough and will be patient in going through your emotions and won’t try to rush you through the process. This is because taking your time plays a key role in the grieving process.
2) Take your time in absorbing your emotions
When coping with the death of loved ones, there are a lot of processes and thoughts that go through one’s mind before eventually having to accept this loss. At this time, it is important to know that there is no time limit, nor is there a ‘right’ way to cope with these emotions.
One shouldn’t rush themselves and needs to realize that there is no weakness in showing and expressing your emotions when going through this grieving period.
“One of the things we tend to accidentally do is to rush our loved ones into ‘getting over the loss as quickly as possible… when we rush the person to grieve, this can actually backfire later in life. The person may feel pressured to repress the distress and grief for the sake of others around him/her and this grief may later manifest itself in other ways…”
There are multiple ways that people use this time. Some try to distract themselves from these thoughts by occupying themselves with work, or by doing the things that they love. Such was the way that Ms. Padma dealt with her own grievances.
It took her a long time, and it was a turbulent time, but eventually, through the help of counsellors and taking her time, she was able to accept her loss.
However, it is important to note that some may have harmful/unhelpful ways to cope with their loss, such as the use (and abuse) of alcohol, drugs, smoking, or even harbouring suicidal thoughts.
While one should respect how individuals respond to the loss of others, those who fall into these more serious issues shouldn’t be left alone.
In these cases, it’s best for them to be brought to seek professional help to guide them through the process.
3) Seek professional help if the going gets tough
While grieving is a natural process that everyone goes through at some point in their lives, this doesn’t mean that everyone can do it by themselves.
As mentioned previously, seeking professional help can play an important role in going through the grieving process.
Sometimes, there are some things that may weigh your thoughts, such as having issues in the past or having unfinished business with the deceased. These types of thoughts and issues may not be fit to be talked about with friends, and is best to be talked about with a mental health professional that can help assist one through these trying times.
While the Asian culture is certainly beginning to become more open-minded, there are still a lot of people (mostly from the older generation) who are still sceptical about seeking professional help in the form of counselling or therapy. It’s important to note that seeking professional help does not mean that one is weak. Everyone requires help from time to time—that’s why we humans are social creatures.
If you find yourself suffering through grief and need help in the process of coping with the death of loved ones, never hesitate to talk with someone about it. There are many people who are out there, may it be friends or professionals, who are ready to support you through the grieving process.
“Sometimes, it is not always about solving the problem. At times, it is simply about having someone who listens to you without prejudice and validates your feelings.”