by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
Good Grief – sounds like words Charlie Brown would proclaim when something illogical occurred. When you think about it, he was not that off base using this phrase, Good Grief, because grief, at least the first phase of mourning, is anything but logical. Experiencing grief is not a rational process. It is gut wrenching and emotionally challenging. Grief by its very definition: “deep sadness or mental distress caused by loss, remorse, or bereavement” (Webster’s Dictionary) leaves the sufferer questioning if he/she will or can survive the agony.
Too many of our military men and women have had to bear the loss of friends. Yet, due to circumstances of the battlefield, they cannot take the time, energy, or effort to fully move through the grieving process. Each individual must be able to carry on without the luxury of grieving. In war, there is always another job to do, a new battle to wage, and perhaps even further loss. Add PTSD to the grief process, and the mountain to healing becomes even steeper to climb.
It is little wonder that our young and old warriors return from combat with unresolved issues. Many of these problems center around the grief process or more accurately, lack of resolving the immense weight of unsettled pain. If we were to look at the grief process described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance – it is pretty easy to identify where & why many can get permanently stuck in one phase or another. To complicate matters, real grief processing requires going in and out of the various stages for a long period, often times skipping phases only to be plunged back to that pit at a moments notice.
Families of vets often state that their loved one is in denial; denial that they are suffering, denial that there is anything wrong with them, and denial that they can handle the situation without help. Then there is anger; anger at the government who sent them to fight, anger at the enemy, anger at a civilian society that has no clue of what they went through, and most devastating is anger at themselves for not being strong enough to overcome the trauma of combat. As far as bargaining, most warriors don’t seem to bargain for much of anything except for a break to live without all of the emotional baggage.
What we see a great deal of, when and if a veteran reaches this next phase is depression. This is the phase that may be the most difficult to get through and endure without resorting to self medication. For many the moments between denial, anger, and depression can be small; often they are mixed together in a whirling mass of chaos. Achieving acceptance is seldom a permanent stage, a stage which many of our wounded warriors never attain even for brief moments.
Dealing with Post Traumatic Stress is dealing with grief. It is not easy; it is not quick; it definitely is not logical; and it is not a journey that any one of us should have to go through alone. Is there such a thing as Good Grief? Truthfully, I am not sure any grief is good, but I have witnessed and have personally gone through mourning that is doable. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure grief made me stronger, but it certainly made me more compassionate and gave me a deeper appreciation of each ordinary day where I can breathe freely without feeling my heart breaking.
And that in and of itself is pretty darn GOOD.