Finding the way through grief and helping those you love

The Means Report

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – We want dedicate this broadcast to a topic that you might be facing this time of year. A lot of people sure are, even though it’s a year-round issue, no question about it. But it really rears its head in a lot of people’s lives during the holiday season. It’s grief, and we wanna take a look at how people respond to grief, the different types of grief, and how you can face important moments when perhaps you just don’t want to. And to help us navigate all of that, we’re gonna turn to an expert from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. He’s psychologist Matthew Kridel.

Brad Means: Dr. Kridel, thank you so much for being with us, for taking time out of your busy schedule. We appreciate you.

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Yeah, thank you for having me.

Brad Means: All right, so the internet tells me that grief is not just the reaction that people feel to a loss, but it’s the name given to the coping process after that loss, is that accurate enough?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Yeah, I would say it is. You know, grief is a really complex emotion. It’s a really complex experience. And so, you know, we can’t just say it’s a one-time thing. You know, the feeling you feel right after you learn something about a loss, or you know, even the feeling six months later. It’s a full process, it’s an emotion in of itself, and it’s the entire way we cope and respond to losses in our life.

Brad Means: Do people in your experience seek professional help, psychological help for grief? It seems like something that for so many people is handled in private. Do you see folks coming to you for help?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Absolutely, grief is as valid as any other reason to come see a mental health professional, and not everyone needs to. So grief is a very normal emotion to experience and there’s no one right way to go about grief. So if you decide, “I don’t need to see someone,” that’s okay, but if you do decide to see someone, that’s okay too. And you know, there’s different reasons someone may decide that they want to seek professional help for grief. It could be that the grief has gone on a long amount of time that feels uncomfortable to them. It could be that the grief has caused significant disruptions in their life. You know, it’s perfectly normal to take some time off of work to cope with a loss. But then if you find that it’s been so long you lose your job, it’s creating financial impacts, you know those might be reasons you wanna see someone. And certainly we would always suggest that, you know, if you start having thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or not wanting to live yourself, that’s always going to be a reason to seek professional help.

Brad Means: So the expression time heals all wounds, does that apply to grief? I mean, if you wait it out long enough, will it eventually go away?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: In most cases yeah, and I would even take that and twist it a little bit to say that you truly never stop grieving, but it just gets easier. I think time amongst other things can be one of the most healing things for grief. But if you find yourself 10 years after a loss still having a moment where you go, “You know, I really miss that person,” that’s totally normal.

Brad Means: I wanna take a look at ways that it might not be normal. Red flags if you will. But before I get to that question, let me just ask you. When we talk about grief, a lot of people picture the loss of a loved one, a person. Does it have to be the death of a person? You mentioned job loss. What are some other things that might bring actual grief?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: No, I’m glad you asked that. It absolutely does not have to be job loss. I’ll sometimes explain to patients or just to individuals I’m talking in grief about, you know, we usually do think of it as, as around death and loss of a loved one, of a person. But really, I think grief is better conceptualized as a reaction to any kind of loss. So you mentioned, you know, job loss, that you can absolutely experience grief about that. I think breakups are very common. You know, a divorce or just a first-time love that ends is a perfectly normal reason to experience grief. But it can also be, you know, different kinds of life changes. You graduate from school, you move to a different city, and those are perfectly acceptable reasons to grieve. Ultimately something you’ve lost. You know, you lose an opportunity to spend time with friends. You lose going to that favorite restaurant. Those are all perfectly normal reasons to experience grief. It’s just a reaction to any kind of loss.

Brad Means: I know this is a super general question, but is there an average amount of time it takes for somebody to get through that tough part of grief and to perhaps reach a point where your life returns mostly to normal? Is it months, years where you can say, “Okay, that part’s over now.”

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Yeah, I don’t really think there is. And actually in thinking about this question, I was doing some of my own research to say, well, is there some literature out there, a journal article that says how long, and I couldn’t find one. I think if you asked a hundred people, how long do you think it takes to grieve, or how long did it take you to grieve, you would get such a wide range of answers. It’s almost not worth publishing because it could be six months, it could be three years. So there really is no right way or right pattern to grieve. Now I will say that typically you are gonna see that over time, your grief does get less and less. You should see it kind of showing up less often. You should see it having less impact on your life. But the timeline for that itself is pretty broad. It’s just over time, you should notice a change, but how long it takes for that change to happen, there is no normal.

Brad Means: I know you mentioned that a good number of people do seek professional help and that that is a good thing. But also you acknowledge that some people choose not to. What if you go the second route and you’re just sort of going in alone, trying to cope, day to day, when might you start to realize that it’s not working, that this just, you’re not strong enough or equipped enough to get through it on your own, you need to go see a pro. When should that light bulb come on?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Yeah, and, you know, I’ll take something you said there about this idea of going in alone. And I know what you meant was, not with a professional. And I think that in of itself is a sign that you maybe need to seek some help, is if you are going it alone. Grief is, you know we’re all social beings, and so grief amongst many other events in life, joyful or not, really hopefully you aren’t going it alone. And so if you find yourself isolating or withdrawing from loved ones, people you can talk to, that might be a sign that you need to seek some help and that help could be professional, but maybe it’s just, let’s change this pattern and go talk to a loved one. And again, some of those really significant symptoms, there is this concept that psychologists and mental health professionals are starting to put together of what we call persistent complex bereavement. And so it’s not an official diagnosis, but the pattern of that is if you find your grief, that it’s lasting for 12 months past a death, and it’s really characterized by this deep yearning or longing for the deceased, so much so that you can’t have any positive memories of the loved one, which is a normal part of grief, is remembering, “Wasn’t that fun when we did that?” If you’re struggling to do that, that’s probably a warning sign. If you find yourself bitter or angry or blaming yourself for what happened, if you find yourself wanting to die so that you can be with a loved one, those are all signs of what we would call persistent complex bereavement, which is absolutely a reason to go seek some help. But again, you know it, honestly you know yourself best. And so, I can give a lot of examples of, you should look out for this, you should look out for that. But ultimately, if you personally have the sense of, “Maybe I do need to talk to someone,” that’s the best sense you can have.

Brad Means: You know, you hear sometimes in certain situations, Dr. Kridel, that you can choose your response or your reaction to something. You can choose to be angry. You can choose to be irritated with somebody, if they’re trying to bother you. You can choose happiness or sadness. Can you choose to be filled with grief or be not to filled with grief? Is your brain that strong?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: I like to say, rather than being able to choose your emotions, you can choose what you do with those emotions. So many times grief or any other emotions, you’ll find that those emotions come and they might be unpredictable. You are spending a day at the park with loved ones, and you find yourself filled with anger. That doesn’t line up with a day at the park with loved ones. And so there’s not so much a choice about that feeling coming to you, but you do often have a choice about how you respond to it. So on one hand, a person could experience that anger and take some time to themselves. Say, “Hey, I’m gonna go on a walk around the park.” You know, that’s a choice you can make in response to that anger. At the same time, you could choose to throw something, to yell, and in some ways that could be a healthy coping response, as long as it’s causing harm to others. I think when it comes to grief, the important thing, one of the ways we learned to get through it and to cope with it is to accept our emotions, to notice when they come, to be able to label them and say, “This is sadness, this is depression. This is anger, this is disbelief.” And to go, “You know what? This is an okay emotion to have,” and to not try and push it away or push it down or suppress it. Ultimately you end up seeing often a rebound effect where if you don’t take the time to deal with your grief, it’s just gonna show up later down the road. So can you choose your emotions? I’m not so sure. But can you choose the way you respond to those emotions? That’s a bit more within your control.

Brad Means: Well, that’s great advice about how to respond to those emotions as they come. Is it helpful then, just to kind of piggyback on that, is it helpful to maybe when you wake up during the initial period after a loss, and before even get out of bed say, “I’m probably going to feel certain things today. And I know that when they come, my response is already planned.” Is it kinda kind of helpful to do that, look ahead at your day?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Sure, you can absolutely kind of you know, almost in the way of a mantra. You can work it into morning prayers, if that’s part of your spiritual system, to say, “I’m gonna anticipate some of this to happen,” and then to change that anticipation not to one of anxiety, like, “Oh gosh, I know I’m gonna feel sad today And I really wanna avoid that.” But like you said to say, you know, “I’m gonna preempt these feelings,” and so that when they do come up, I’ve already kind of internalized this idea in myself of, “Hey, there it is. I expected it.” You know, you can say hi to it, “Hello sadness, hello anger.” And I think it could absolutely help you to anticipate a little bit what you might experience.

Brad Means: We are having a conversation with Dr. Matthew Kridel, psychologist from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Our topic is grief, and when “The Means Report” continues, we’ll talk about the holidays and the best way for folks who are grieving to approach the holidays. And as importantly perhaps, how we should approach those people to help them through the process, on “The Means Report”.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to “The Means Report”. We’re talking about grief, and as the holidays approach, we know that is a topic that is on a lot of people’s minds. Dr. Matthew Kridel is a psychologist with MCG at AU. Dr. Kridel, let’s turn our focus to the holiday season and ask for your advice for somebody who is grieving, whether they just suffered the loss, or whether it’s something that happened months ago before the holiday season was even close, and they just want to take this season off. They just wanna hide. And I know in our first segment you addressed what it’s like when you just wanna be alone. Can you take a Christmas season off while you recover?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: You know what that means, taking a Christmas season off, it’s really up to each person. So I hear you saying, you know, some people may have the sense of, “I don’t wanna do it. I wanna hide, I wanna be alone,” And I think in some measure that is totally acceptable. But you wanna temper that, right? We all need time to ourselves, but it can quickly turn into an isolation. And so with the holidays, you know, there is this idea of pacing, you know, and to know yourself and to know, “What am I capable of this year?” Are you going to do the big holiday party you always do, where you cook a ham and a turkey and all these dishes and put up the Christmas tree, and maybe not. Maybe that’s a little too much for this year, but I would certainly encourage someone to, as best as they can, try and return to some of those rituals, some of those, you know, things they do over the holidays, because part of the way we get through grief is restoring a sense of normalcy. Things will never be the way that they were, but it can certainly help to get back to, you know, “Things are different, but I still feel some sense of the same.” So thinking about, what do I want my holiday to look like? It’s not gonna look like maybe what it has always looked like in the past but what are the things that I wanna make sure are still a part of my holiday season?

Brad Means: All right, so walk me through something that someone might still want to be a part of their holiday season, but they don’t know how to do it. Let’s just say that there is a tradition in a family where on Christmas Eve, the person and their loved one, they get to each open a present, and the loved one is gone this year. Do you just say, “Well, there will be no present opening on Christmas Eve,” do you do it by yourself and pretend like the person’s there? How do you handle that part of it? And you know, I know that we don’t wanna isolate, we don’t wanna hide, but how do you get through something like that?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Sure, I think one way that you can go about that is to, you know, maybe engage in that ritual of gift giving with someone else. Of course, that other person or persons are not gonna replace the loved one lost, but you can still maybe get some of the same joy out of that, you know, giving and receiving that’s there. You know, in a lot of cultures, grief rituals look different and holiday rituals look different. And so thinking about, is there a way that you can, you know, offer a gift to a loved one who is no longer with us, maybe in the form of a prayer or perhaps you know, buying something that would’ve made them smile and enjoying it yourself? And so I think, maybe you decide you don’t wanna engage in a ritual at all. Maybe this year I’m not doing gifts. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s worth taking some time to consider, you know, what did I get out of that, and is there a way I can maybe meet that need of connection, of giving and receiving, in a way that looks different than it did before.

Brad Means: All right, let’s kind of turn the focus 180 degrees from the person who’s grieving to the support system, the rest us who are out there trying to help that person. Boy, it is a tough task sometimes to figure out what to say, Dr. Kridel, to even go up to that person. How do you approach and talk to a person who’s grieving?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Yeah, I think all of us can relate in a lot of ways, to the experience of grief. And so it can help sometimes to, before you engage with that person who is grieving, to just check in with yourself and access that empathy and go, what would I want if I lost a loved one, or what did I want when I lost that loved one several years ago? And that can help you relate and understand to a person who is grieving. Often when I talk with patients or with other individuals about grief, I use this metaphor of an exercise ball bouncing around a big room, and for the person who’s grieving, it feels like you’re getting hit with that exercise ball over and over and over again, and hard, and it’s knocking them down. And so to be a loved one who is trying to enter with them into that space, you know, you’re taking on this role of, I might also get hit with the exercise ball of grief, and to acknowledge that I might too feel some difficult emotions by entering into them with my loved one. And that that’s okay, that you’re allowed to feel sad. You’re allowed to cry. You’re allowed to take on some of those emotions. And I think too, you know, sometimes there’s nothing you can do better than just asking a person what they need. It can get tricky because a loved one may say, “I don’t know what I need.” And so then it comes on to you as to, well, what would I want, or what does this person usually like? Do they like coffee? Let me take them a coffee. Do they like a home-cooked meal? I’ll make them some mac and cheese. You know, and thinking about what is it that this person normally responds to, or maybe what is it that you would want to receive when you’re grieving.

Brad Means: Well, then in that case, if you’re taking that approach, do you sometimes have to kind of be more insistent? In other words, say, “I know you like coffee. I am bringing you a cup tomorrow,” or just, you know, walk up to the person and say, “Here is your coffee.” ‘Cause sometimes you do, you’re right. You ask and they say, “Oh, I’m not really sure what I need.” Should you kind of decide for them?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Maybe, it depends on your relationship with that person. You know, there is going to be a type of person who you know, if you’re that kind of forward and assertive with doing something for them, are gonna go, “What are you doing?” You know, you know your friend. But I think too, I’ve heard plenty of stories from people who, that was one of the most meaningful things to me when that person said, “I don’t care, I’m dragging you out of the house and we’re going on a drive. We don’t have to go anywhere, but just I’m going to do something for you.” And you know, you take it as it comes. So maybe you try something, you go, “You know what? I know you love coffee, we’re going to get coffee.” And you later find out that actually didn’t work for them. Well, that’s okay, you did it out of a place of love. And now you can adjust to maybe your approach the next time. So it really depends on you and your relationship with the person, and then being willing to go, “Okay, maybe I try something different the next time.”

Brad Means: No matter what approach you choose, should you talk less and listen more because, “How are you doing?” seems like the worst question in the world. The minute it comes out, you regret it because you know they’re not doing well. And so is it sometimes best to just go into that space with that person and try to be quiet?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: It can be, and again, you know, it’s never fun to get the answer of just like, “Well it depends,” but it really does, and you have to kind of feel that out. So I’m always a big fan of, you know, you can ask people explicitly, “Hey, do you need someone to listen, and you wanna get things off your chest? Or are you sick of talking about it, and you want me to prattle on about my problems?” And for some people that’s the right thing. They wanna put their focus somewhere else. And so I think it’s totally okay to ask, but certainly, you know, a lot of times what people just need is a listening ear. And listening doesn’t even have to be listening to talking. It can be sitting in the same space and listening, so to speak, to just whatever feelings come up for yourself and giving that person the space to, “If you wanna talk, I’m going to sit here with you, and if you say nothing, I’m still gonna sit here with you,” and that can still be a very healing experience.

Brad Means: What’s it sound like and feel like if they seek professional help doctor, if they come to you and say, “I need you to help me get through this.” It seems so intimidating, but once they get the courage to reach out, what happens?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Yeah so you know, I think it’s important to expect like many doctor’s offices, if you were to see a physician or another health professional, you know there’s gonna be some paperwork to get through. And I think those things are important to know, ’cause then you don’t feel like, “Oh God, I just, they want me to fill out what?” And not let that be a barrier to getting the help. Ultimately, once a person ends up in my office, I’m just simply gonna ask them. I almost always start with, “What brings you here today?” And I just take 10 or 15 minutes to be quiet and listen to what they have to say. I’m definitely gonna wanna explore, you know, how long they’ve been feeling this way, what those feelings are. And like I said before, I’m gonna be looking out for some of those things that might be more concerning. Are they drinking as a way to cope with their feelings? Are they having thoughts of wanting to hurt themselves or not be on this earth anymore? And if those do come up, you know, we have ways to take care of them. It’s not the kind of thing where we’re calling the police or putting someone in a hospital, of course not, they’re normal. Ultimately I hope people know that if you decide to seek professional help, you’re gonna find someone on the other end who just wants to listen and to hear you. And if you decide, “I don’t wanna do any worksheets, I don’t wanna do this or that,” you don’t have to, you can just be heard.

Brad Means: Can you prescribe something that can help us? Or is it primarily coping techniques and conversation with a professional?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Sure, it’ll depend on the provider you see. So psychologists, counselors don’t typically, we’re not capable of prescribing. You can absolutely see a physician to be prescribed. That might be a psychiatrist who specializes in mental health, or it could be your primary care family medicine provider. Depression is different than grief, and so you can absolutely experience them at the same time. But a lot of times people are going to, you know, maybe look depressed when it really is grief. And so it’s gonna be up to the provider who does prescribe to be judicious and, does this need a little something extra? If you do need to take a medication, something like an antidepressant, a sleep medication to help you get sleep at night, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s your grief process, but those things are not necessary. So if you seek a medication, don’t feel like anything’s wrong with you. And if you decide, “I’m gonna do this without medication, I’m going to seek other coping methods,” which is more of the bread and butter of psychologists, that’s okay too.

Brad Means: Dr. Kridel, I have 15 seconds. I shouldn’t ask the question, I should wrap up, but I need to know the answer. What if you have unfinished business with the deceased, a loved one, that you’re remorseful because of that?

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Mm-hmm. That’s really difficult and that’s really common as well. And that’s the kind of thing that you should spend some time with, perhaps journaling, even pray and speak to your loved one, or seek a professional to unpack some of that unfinished business.

Brad Means: Well, I appreciate that advice and I appreciate your time today, Dr. Matthew Kridel, you have been wonderful and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season too.

Dr. Matthew Kridel: Thanks, you as well.

Brad Means: “The Means Report” will be right back.

Part 3

Brad Means: Welcome back to “The Means Report”. It’s easy to stay in touch with us. You can hit our social media sites, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and let us know what you think, what you’d like to see on this broadcast. Or you can email us, meansreport@wjbf.com. Great way to submit your ideas. And you can watch all previous episodes at wjbf.com/themeansreport.

You know, the real reason, the primary reason we chose grief as our topic today was because we are grieving here at “The Means Report”. We’re grieving the loss of a beloved member of the extended “Means Report” family. It’s Marlene Sayer Wilson. Marlene, the mother of our executive producer and director Marlena Wilson. It was unexpected and it has been extremely difficult, not just for Marlena, who we all adore, but for the entire Television Park family. And so we wanted to use that, Marlena wanted to use that to try to help others through the grieving process, and we hope we’ve gotten closer to accomplishing that today. But all of our hearts and all of our love go out to the family of Marlena Wilson and her mother Marlene, she will never be forgotten.

For Levi, Marlena, Marlene, and the entire “Means Report” family, take care.

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The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.