Daniel Vieira is 62 years old. He lost his father and brother to COVID-19 in a span of less than a month, during the first wave of the pandemic. The days seemed endless for him after the sudden death of two people so significant in his life. Despite believing in God, the discouragement when facing the absence of his family every day was much greater than his strength to react at that moment could handle. He was living in mourning! With that said, does mourning really need to be lived? If so, what is the normal time to be experienced? Who has faith yet goes through the grieving process?
To answer several questions about death and bring relief to those who face the painful losses of family and friends, the Theology and Psychology departments at Faculdade Adventista da Bahia (FADBA) carry out, on the National Day of Mourning, a virtual project with messages of hope shared by theologians and precious reflections shared by psychologists on how to react to the death of loved ones.
The action had the participation of FADBA theology students who recorded videos with messages of support and hope. “When I realize that the simple act of recording a message can help someone, I feel motivated to keep talking about how the love of Jesus is able to heal our emotional pains, especially in this delicate time of pandemic we are living in, with any loss of loved ones and emotional problems”, says Rafael Santos, who is in the second year of the Seminary.
For Vitória Cordeiro, a last-year student in Psychology, who recorded one of the project's videos, this emphasizes the importance of mourning to be lived. “There is no formula or step-by-step [process] to ease suffering. The pain must be experienced. Each person experiences grief in a unique way. Some cry; let them cry. Others are silent; respect the silence. Others want to be alone; respect space. What cannot be expected is that everyone reacts to grief in the same way. There is no right way; there is pain! And the way to know how to deal with it is to know and feel. So, change phrases like “I know what you're feeling” with “I don't know your pain, but I'm here to support you in this moment of mourning”, she explains.
According to Pastor Willian Oliveira, professor of the Theology and Psychology at FADBA, faith is considered one of the most important elements of resilience in the face of pain. At certain times in life, the only things that are left to a human being are one’s belief and community of faith to find support. “Paul remembers that he could [accomplish] all things in God, but how good it was for him to find the support of his church [see Philippians 4:13, 14). The Word of God offers a framework that explains the cause of suffering and, even more, a hope that, at the end, He Himself will restore us”, he concludes.
The South American Adventist News Agency interviewed Paula Ferreira, the technical coordinator of the FADBA Psychology Service, about how to face grief and deal with people who are going through this process of pain and loss. Check it out!
What is grief?
Grief is a period of the human experience of adapting to losses—losses in general. People often understand that grief is related to death, but not necessarily. You can experience grief simply by stopping an abrupt experience like the loss of relationships with close people and even the loss of living with pets.
Is grief experienced and overcome in stages?
The stages of grief usually involve first a stage of denial. This phase goes through anger, bargaining, [and] a half-depressive condition until it reaches acceptance. Of course, this logic is not linear, and not everyone goes through these feelings or realizes that they do. Everything will depend on the loss and the characteristics of the person.
grief and depression
Is there a time limit for the grief process to be considered normal?
We understand that if a person experienced the loss properly, as far as possible, which is: do not medicate within the first 72 hours of the loss; allow the person to experience the wake ritual. In general, if these human needs for coping with death are respected, we understand that when the loss is traumatic and out of the ordinary, mourning can extend further. Usually, this also occurs when there [are] emotional issues with the loved one. And in these cases, you need the help of a professional to get out of the mourning state. When grief goes through a long time—six months, one year—the person may be in a depression.
How does one identify that grief has evolved into depression?
It is possible to identify that the grief was not overcome, noticing the loss of the individual's productive capacity—loss of work, loss of interest in activities one did before, change in appetite, [and] insomnia. The person signals the loss of the ability to achieve.
Has the pandemic made society face life and grief differently?
We are living through a traumatic moment and one of many losses. People often do not have time to psychically recover from a loss and already have other processes of mourning for different losses. So I believe we cannot measure the long-term consequences. People live on constant alert due to virus transmission and so many other losses we have had in this process. It is possible that we will have to manage many issues of mourning later on, when people are vaccinated, the coronavirus [is] more controlled, and [we are] able to resume activities. At this time, it will be necessary [to have] very intense psychological support from people who had no way to [express] their grief.
Do those who have faith in God face grief in a different way?
Faith is an essential component in coping with grief because if you believe in a superior being, overcoming and comfort will come faster. But, this does not mean that those who have faith do not need, in a moment of loss, professional help, suddenly due to an emotional [upheaval] with the person who has passed away. We have had experiences of people who had a well-developed faith and went through painful and more intense mourning for these issues.