Grief: It’s something you work through, not get over

Workshop series aims to teach how to achieve ‘a new normal’

By Kevin Spradlin

Progress in western civilization can be admired for many things — skyscrapers, the Internet and flight, including space exploration, to name a few.

But one thing westerners don’t have a firm grasp on, at least in mainstream society, is death. In fact, said Pam Easterling, of Sandhills Alternative Academy in Rockingham, people generally shy away from saying someone’s dead. Easterling said she once discussed the topic with a local doctor. Why, she asked, wasn’t the word “dead” or “died” used when breaking bad news to a family member? The doctor said that it’s because the news is already “such a blow to families.”

Pam Easterling

Pam Easterling

Easterling countered that understanding there has been a loss is one step closer to acceptance — one of the five steps of grief as pioneered by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

“Thank God death cannot destroy memories,” Easterling said. “We can start a new normal. That doesn’t mean we’ve got to get rid of those memories. It doesn’t mean that person won’t live forever within our children. You don’t have to feel guilty about beginning a new normal.”

When experiencing loss, “your whole life changes.”

And the emotions that come with loss or significant change in one’s life don’t only result from death of a family member. Easterling said it could be the loss of a family pet, a change in relationship status, job relocation or loss and more. Regardless of what triggered grief, she said, there’s a way to accept what happened and move on.

In February, Easterling’s cat of more than 17 years died.

“I was completely devastated,” she said. “I still come in the house and wait for her to meow, wait for her to wake me up at 4 o’clock in the morning because she wants some warm milk.”

But Easterling is able to move on — without forgetting her cat — by talking about it.

“The main thing is telling your story,” Easterling said. “Feel good about telling your story.”

When her father was killed, Easterling said, she learned a valuable lesson from funeral home director Bobby Layman.

“He said one thing you need to always remember: joy shared is joy enhanced, grief shared is grief diminished.’ I don’t know if he thought that up or if he read it somewhere, but I’ve never forgotten that.”

Easterling is spearheading a six-week grief workshop, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. each Tuesday from Sept. 23 through Oct. 28, to help teach others how to help others become more comfortable telling of their experiences. The workshops will meet at Sandhills Alternative Academy, located at 503 Rockingham Road, at the intersection of Rockingham Road and East Franklin Street.

The idea, she said, is that those who attend the workshop will have enough knowledge to begin their own support groups.

Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — don’t, Easterling said, come in any particular order. Easterling shared one story in which a woman’s husband had died two years earlier. Finally, the woman began attending a support group but would not talk. Her quality of life has deteriorated; she neglected her housekeeping duties and though middle-aged, had moved back in with her parents.

At one support group meeting, there was a series of funny stories shared — and the woman, Easterling said, finally opened up.

“She ended up opening up that night,” Easterling said, “and she laughed and she laughed. She ended up forming her own support group.”

There is no cost for the workshop and no need to register. Those with questions can call Easterling at Sandhills Alternative Academy at 910-417-4922.

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  • Stephanie

    I lost my dad in January, it is something that I am still struggling with on nearly an equal level as I was on that first month of 2014. I don’t have a clue how to heal. However, the five stages of grief actually have nothing to do with the person suffering a loss. The five stages were created for the person that was dying. It is the emotions they go through as they fade away or begin to deteriorate. I do not know where the misconception came from that it is for the grieving but it isn’t correct.

    • Pamela

      I understand completely how you feel Stephanie. And although I do not know what you are going through, it is my belief that folks deal with grief in many ways. We both share a commonality…. our dad’s have died. But I cannot say I know how you feel, ’cause I don’t. I do not know the details of your dad’s death, but mine was taken suddenly, a car accident. He epitomized the word Christian. I asked and still ask why. Why, a man as Godly as he, loved his family, and gave his life for the church, and those folks walk around creating evil? After twenty-three years since my dad’s death, I get angry, I’m in denial, and if allowed I can work myself into a state of depression. And these feelings come after I think I have accepted he’s gone. He loved to tell a funny joke and I find myself wanting to call and share something funny I’ve heard. Or just call and say I love you. A day doesn’t go by I don’t think of my daddy. I’ve learned that grief is a process. For me it hasn’t become easier…. but older. Please know you are in my thoughts and prayers as you process this difficult time. And healing is a life-long process. We would love to have you come and join us beginning the 23rd. <3

  • Stephanie

    My dad was wonderful. He loved goofy jokes and interesting facts, I share that trait with him. I would call him all the time with something silly or some fact I knew he would find interesting. I understood who he was and he understood me, something I feel I don’t share with anyone else. Moving on has been a very uphill battle for me, one I haven’t even come close to winning and I am struggling. I am very interested in joining you on this day and hope to be able to. You are also in my thoughts as I believe that you never get over such a loss, even after 23 years.

  • Dian

    May 16, 2009, I got a call that has changed my life forever. My baby boy had been shot and killed. And before the first year of my sons Angelversary, I lost my Mom and then my DAD. I love my parents and I miss them dearly, but the pain is nothing compared to losing a Child. There are no words to describe what a Grieving Mother goes through. I relive that phone call, those words of ‘he didn’t make it’, that night/morning that it happened over and over. I went through the process of burying my child, with so much numbness. Barely remembering who was there and who wasn’t. Trying to be nice and polite, when I was dying inside. Trying to be strong, so others won’t see me fall. Wondering how the world can keep going, while my son lay dead in a coffin. Wanting to scream and yell. I fight tears, grief, anger, the what ifs, depression, anxiety, hate, I fight for my sanity, I fight to get out of bed. Wishing that I could have taken those 2 bullets, so my son would be alive. I fight to keep my child’s memory alive. And I have to fight the urge to reach out and punch someone when they say, ‘he’s in a better place’, or ‘well at least you have other children’, or ‘i know how you feel’, or ‘you got to let it go’, or ‘you got to move on’. I fight the urge to yell ‘if my son is in such a better place, then why don’t you trade your child for mine and let me have mine back’, even if I know my child is in a better place. I can not control my tears, whether the tears are joyous tears as I remember something my son did or grieving tears. And I can not control where or when my tears will start. I am still adapting. I am learning to live without hearing my child’s voice, seeing his face, or hugging him, talking to him on the phone, or listening to him say the funniest things, or hearing him singing me some song that he really liked. I ADAPTED to not seeing him on holidays, birthdays or family outings. And while I am adapting, I am changing. Learning to live without my child that has been part of my life, for almost 24 years. In 2 months, he would have turned 24. My sons life had been cut short. I have learned to survive. Yet I continue my life, with a hole in my heart, a void, an empty place. A void that will never go away, I try to fill it with memories, but that’s only a bandage, a temporary fix. Memories of what we had. And no new memories to be added, as my child is not here to make any more memories. With each morning that I awake, I never know what my day will be like. Will it be a good day or not? Am I gonna cry all day? Am I going to get any house work done? This will be my life, for however many days I have left.. I am a Grieving Mother. I am an Angel Mom.

  • Erin

    I am so sorry for your losses. I hope you will be able to join us as much as possible on Tuesdays at 6:30. Sometimes, sharing our grief helps. You will be in our thoughts and prayers!

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