Sadness and gratitude can coexist

Donna Schuurman’s mother died on November 15, 2020, at the age of 91. Clare resided in an assisted-living facility near Baltimore; Donna lives in Portland, Oregon, where she was the executive director, and now serves in a training and advocacy role, at the Dougy Center, America’s premier support program for children, adolescents, and their family members grieving a death. Clare had been relatively healthy, walking around and living with no need for medications until she experienced a fall that broke her hip and led to her death.

Donna and Clare had been separated by geography and visitation restrictions at the facility stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, Clare had not been able to understand why Donna could not come to visit. Much of this is described in a WebMD article by Katherine Kam, “The Year Has Been Sort of Cancelled”. The article, published before Clare’s death, offers several exam­ples of people whose lives and plans were put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic and who experienced an overwhelm­ing sense of loss. The text of the article is interspersed with thoughtful comments from Donna based on her years of listen­ing to and supporting bereaved people.

One of Donna’s comments that particularly grabbed my attention was her advice to bereaved persons to realize that “the sadness and the gratitude can coexist: Sadness and a broad range of other grief reactions are all too evident in the wake of a significant loss in our lives. Loss of loved ones and having our lives put on hold generate sadness and anger, loss of a sense of safety and control, feelings of powerlessness, and “a loss of the assumptive world, like ‘how I thought things were going to be:” Donna’s point is that these are all normal reactions in situations like these, one of the core beliefs about grief Dougy Center has advanced over the past three decades.

Nevertheless, Donna notes that people can hold two viewpoints at the same time, both joy and pain, both sorrow and celebration. Even in a terrible time we can pay attention to our gratitude that the person who died was a part of our lives. We can acknowledge the positive legacy that they left us. While we are sad that they are no longer physically present to us, we can be grateful for all they have given us, we can honor their memory, and we can continue to maintain an ongoing relationship with them, even in their physical absence.

– Charles A. Corr, PhD, formerly chaired the International Work Group on Death, Dying, and Bereavement and is recipient of the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Death Education and Counseling. August 2022 issue of Journeys Bereavement Newsletter


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