Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Having one's own sanctuary for grief
At a recent symposium that I attended, I learned some shocking information from Yasuyuki Shimizu, the head of a suicide prevention nonprofit organization called Lifelink.
Among those who call the group for help, there are many bereaved family members who lost their loved ones to last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami. What was particularly significant for me was that, according to Mr. Shimizu, one year after the disasters, not much has changed for many of those grieving.
The bereaved family members often describe their conditions as "being at a loss as to what to do." The feeling of being completely stumped by how to start to heal their emotional wounds lingers even a year after the disasters.
As I was listening to Mr. Shimizu, part of me was surprised, but part of me also thought that such a state of mind is rather natural. In fact, it is rather impossible to expect people who have lost a loved one to suddenly be healed in a year or so.
We often hear words along the lines of "The clock has stopped since then," or "Since that day, I haven't moved a single step forward." However, if one comes to think about it, this is a rather normal human response -- and it is not only limited to those who lost a dear one in last year's disasters.
In our lives we are always surrounded by countless possibilities of unexpected personal loss, disease and major failure. When something devastating like this happens to us, we are often told by others to fight on and not give in to it, but the reality is that it always takes time to overcome such incidents.
There will be a certain period of time -- sometimes half a year, sometimes a year, or even longer -- when we won't be able to do anything but blankly stare into space. Sometimes it can take years before we once again become aware of the changing seasons.
In my consultation room, I often wonder whether a period of grief should be as short as possible. Whenever we treat patients who have suffered a major shock in their lives, we psychiatrists always tell them the following: "You must have suffered a great deal. However, if you take this medicine, you will feel a bit better. It will shorten the grief period and help you get better soon."
While this is not a lie per se, that is how we prescribe anti-depressants and other medications, while we sometimes also think that what the person really needs is to embrace the grief and take as much time as he or she needs to deal with the emotional pain.
Unfortunately, however, modern society does not allow people the privilege of a long recovery from a sad and painful event in life. If people tell their employers that they are in need of a half year's leave to recover from a personal loss, they will most likely be recommended to quit their job or see a doctor and do something about it as soon as possible.
I sometimes think how wonderful it would be if people had their own "sanctuary for grief" -- a place far away from daily house chores and work, where they can be free to think about their grief as much as they need.
Perhaps, at the moment, Lifelink is the closest thing we have to such a place. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
April 01, 2012(Mainichi Japan)