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What grief can teach us about the human spirit

April 18, 2019
This post is adapted from an article written by Angie Hughes, Program Director of Senior Behavioral Wellness.

It is very humbling to sit around a table with a group of people seeking help and support, sharing their joys and struggles within their life stories, to journey alongside them as they learn more about themselves.  Many times, group therapy for grief and depression can be the first time people ever experience any kind of counseling.  

Some people never make it to that point, but still seek help.  You might never suspect that friend, family member, or coworker sitting across the table is struggling to put on a smile.  If or when they do open up, they are subtly asking you to throw them a lifeline.  How you respond can make a huge difference in whether they shut down or feel comfortable to continue talking through their emotions with you.

We tend to judge people who are struggling with grief or depression.  According to Perry's counselors, such people have far more to teach us than just stories of sadness and struggle.  

1. Gratitude Leads to Gratitude

People at their lowest often show the importance of gratitude.  People who seek out help to cope with their grief are so appreciative of support, recognition, and information they receive.  They affirm their supporters because they feel affirmed, and they, more than anyone, understand the value of 'treating others the way you want to be treated.' 

2.  Hardships Create Wisdom and Resilience

Coping with loss, trauma, and feelings of inadequacy can create wisdom and resilience.  All people's lives have ups and downs, pains and pleasures, and joys and sorrows.  There is much to learn from that.  Whether someone reaches a low point from a long line of poor decisions or some exceptionally bad luck, they have gained insights along the way that can help others avoid those paths. 

3.  We All Want Love and Acceptance

Counseling (unofficially with friends or in group therapy) only works if there is a sense of belonging.  Even when someone doesn't admit it, they crave and benefit from talking to others.  People struggling with grief and depression want and need social connection, like going out with friends, talking on the phone, visiting with family, or going to events in groups.  They want you to talk to them, with them, not at them or over them.  

4.  Faith Gives Strength

Whether people admit it or share the details or even acknowledge it at all, they have strong faiths.  Within each person is something greater than themselves that gives them strength and courage to go on, and hope for the future.  It is strength that keeps them going and makes them willing to talk, not weakness that holds them back.  

5.  We Need Purpose and Meaning

People need to be needed.  They want a reason to get up and go each day, to do something that makes a difference.  They want to feel accomplished and that what they do is important.  People who lose their independence especially struggle to accept the change and they need to be reminded of their strengths and values they still possess.  Everyone feels better about themselves when their dedication leads to results and acknowledgement.  

Life does not always come easy.  Often the beauty of the human spirits comes out because of the hardships we go through, not in spite of it.  The most important thing to remember is that we weren't made to go through it alone; others are out there going through the same struggles, feeling the same emotions, and needing someone to talk with.  There is no shame in seeking help.

Perry Memorial Hospital offers the Senior Behavioral Wellness program for patients on Medicare, 65 years and older.  Other mental health services are available through the Family Health Clinic for non-Medicare eligible patients.