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Culture Spotlight

Unresolved grief can make you sick—here’s how to help

Cathy Sanchez Babao shares how what you—and others around you—get through the mourning process.
Nana Nadal | Jun 13 2019

Real men don’t cry, or so they say. But according to grief coach, Cathy Sanchez Babao, tears are part of the mourning process. “Feelings of grief need to be expressed outwardly if you are to heal after losing someone,” Babao points out. Otherwise, it may manifest in destructive ways. “You can become short-tempered and this can affect your relationships, you can also get sick,” she reveals. Anything from chronic migraine to hypertension and diabetes.

 

More about getting back up again:

 

To support one’s self and others in time of grief, Babao shares the six needs of mourning. Foremost is the need to acknowledge the reality of the loss. The length of time this takes varies per individual, it could stretch for years. “This begins in the head, but it takes a long while for the heart to accept,” Babao states. So it could be two steps forward one day, then one step back the next.

“Talking to someone is always the beginning of healing. You need to be a safe space where a grieving friend can freely talk about the loss without offering unsolicited advice.” If no friend comes to mind, to approach somebody from your church, a counselor, or a psychiatrist is also an option. “There’s no shame in seeking help, let’s remove the stigma of seeking help, we all need help at various points in life,” Babao coaxes.

It can be much harder for men because they are socialized to hold it together and are labeled as weak if they don’t. “They’re not used to talking about their feelings. We should provide our men space where they will not be judged. Volunteer to be one but also allow them moments alone so they can cry privately, if necessary.” If they do breakdown in front of you, try not to show your discomfort.

Photograph by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

While the tendency is to run away from pain, Babao emphasizes the need to lean into the pain of your loss. However, you must not attempt to confront it all in one go. “You have to experience it every day, little by little. Every day you have to allow yourself to reflect, to sit down with your pain,” she recommends. “But you don’t have to sit with them all day long,” she quickly adds.

Remembering the person who died is a very important need. “Don’t sweep the memory under the rug. The person who is no longer there will live on in our memory, it’s the only thing that we have left so to heal you need to actively remember the person who died. Remembering the past helps leads us into a future of hope,” she says. Eventually, you will reach a point where you can celebrate the life that they lived by finding a different connection such as doing good things in their name, keeping things that were special to them, sharing memories through writing or whatever medium best for you. “It’s like a paradigm shift. Think of them now that they’re everywhere with you rather than think that they’re gone,” she suggests.

A loss is life-changing. Moving forward, there will be a need to develop a new self-identity, the part of it related to the person who died. This includes learning new skills, such as chores that your wife used to do for you. This reconstruction of identity takes time. “Find the strength in what remains,” Babao advises. If your child died, are you still a father? “Yes, of course. That doesn’t change because your child died,” she assures.

Mourning also requires a search for meaning. “When we go through a loss, we question the meaning and purpose of life and death. Sometimes you may question your philosophies in life, that’s fine. it’s expected for you to have sometimes a crisis of faith, it happens. But you will find out that faith also plays a major role in your healing journey,” Babao relates. Though having faith does not negate the need to mourn. You can believe that your loved one is with God and be sad at the same time. She urges that you channel these questions into a creative or concrete act that may benefit others. “Sometimes it just requires stepping out of your sadness and giving of yourself to other people.”           

Support for the mourner has to be continuous, it shouldn’t stop after the funeral nor the first death anniversary. “Never do it alone. You’re allowed to be dependent on a time of mourning, you’re allowed to be selfish and think of yourself,” she assures. She encourages checking on bereaved friends regularly, even months after, especially on crucial dates like birthdays, anniversaries, or milestones. “Just be there and constantly remind them that you’re there,” Babao directs. Call, ask if you can visit, bring food, send flowers. Even the smallest gestures will be much appreciated, it’s your presence that counts.

 

Grief coach Cathy Babao can be reached through her email cathybabao@gmail.com