Ask a Therapist: Grief and Loss with Richard Kneip

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Everyone deals with grief and loss in their own way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, nor is there an amount of time of grievance that is followed by everyone. This is a personal emotional injury that varies in the amount of time it will take to heal. The loss of a loved one can trigger many emotions such as hopelessness, fear, depression, and anger. Join Richard Kneip, PhD, as he answers your questions about how to deal with grief and loss.

Everyone deals with grief and loss in their own way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, nor is there an amount of time of grievance that is followed by everyone. This is a personal emotional injury that varies in the amount of time it will take to heal. The loss of a loved one can trigger many emotions such as hopelessness, fear, depression, and anger. Join Richard Kneip, PhD, as he answers your questions about how to deal with grief and loss.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome everyone! Today?s guest is Richard Kneip, PhD. He will be answering your questions about grief and loss.

Barb_ie98 asks: Do flashbacks of seeing a baby die in your care ever go away?

Richard Kneip, PhD: Traumatic recollections from seeing another person die are naturally most predominant immediately following the traumatic event. These memories, of course, might be especially pronounced if the deceased is a loved one, and even more so when a child is involved. In general, the length of time required for such traumatic recollections to diminish is directly related to the pace at which the bereaved moves through the grieving process. Such memories may never go away entirely, but very likely will lose some or much of the emotional pain that accompanies such memories early on. Some treatments have been shown to be effective in diminishing the strength of such recollections, but the research is largely inconclusive at this point.

ledfootmama asks: How do you keep going when both parents die in the same year?

Richard Kneip, PhD: Grieving the loss of a parent is naturally one of the most difficult things that most people will go through in their lifetimes. How one grieves the loss of a parent naturally depends on the age of the child when the parent dies. Grieving in children when a parent dies can be quite different than the grieving process of an adult. It depends upon the closeness of the relationship, age of the child, circumstances of the parent's death and so forth. We know that one of the most important elements of successfully grieving is the support of friends and loved ones. Naturally the loss of both parents in a short period of time would compound the grief of the bereaved. In such circumstances, the bereaved would have to rely more heavily on the support of other loved ones, siblings and friends, and of course, would have to attend to their own needs, such as caring for their health, getting back to their normal routine
and coping with the loss.

littlemiss_dangerus_33 asks: I recently terminated a pregnancy after amniocentesis revealed that the child would have a severe form of Down's. I've had difficulty in dealing with the grief, guilt, and loss. Do you have any suggestions?

Richard Kneip, PhD: Your reaction sounds very understandable, and perhaps somewhat more complicated than a grieving situation in which a friend or loved one dies. Naturally, your bond to your unborn baby was every bit as strong as one would expect of any child, born or unborn, and your decision to terminate the pregnancy must have been extremely difficult for you. Any doubts or guilt that you experience may prolong your grieving reaction. It will be extremely important for you to draw upon the support of friends and loved ones, and you must keep in mind that you made your decision after careful deliberation with full consideration of what would be best given the circumstances. If you find yourself feeling that friends or loved ones do not understand your grief or are unable to support you, there are several organizations that offer support groups for parents grieving the loss of a child. One of these, Compassionate Friends, is represented in most states. You may be able to find information about them and similar organizations on the Internet or through your church, physician or local health department.

jessicagtz asks: My 5-year-old daughter keeps saying "I miss Grandma." I have not lied to her and try to explain that she is actually dead. How else can I communicate the permanency of our loss? This May will be one year. Thank you.

Richard Kneip, PhD: You are doing the right thing by trying to explain as simply as possible the factual reality of your daughter's grandmother's death. Of course, preschool children will be limited in their understanding of the permanency of death, but it is important that we allow them to ask all sorts of questions and answer them as honestly as possible in terms that the child can understand. It is also important that children be allowed to participate in the family's grieving rituals, such as funerals and memorial services, and to have photographs and other objects of grandmothers available to allow the child to discuss memories and to stimulate any questions that the child might have. The biggest mistake that well-meaning adults often make in an effort to protect the child is to fail to explain the reality of the loved ones death or, even worse, lie by saying that she has moved away or gone on a trip and so forth. Such strategies may delay having to deal with the loss, but also sets the child up for the shocking realization at a later time that the loved one is gone and that they have been lied to by trusted adults.

kferbrache asks: My husband did not die, but after 25 years of marriage I found out that he has been having an affair. I had no warning or signs and was totally shocked. Could this be called a sort of grief?

Richard Kneip, PhD: Absolutely. While your husband did not die, in a sense your beliefs and the trust upon which you thought the relationship was founded for so many years suffered a blow. I would expect your reaction to be very much a grieving reaction as you assimilate this new information into your marriage. Of course, because your husband is still alive and there is still at least a possibility of recovery and renewal of the relationship, you may not experience the inescapable "finality" that one experiences when a loved one dies. Nonetheless, you might very well have the experience that things will never be quite the same in the marriage, hence a grief reaction. As in a grief following the loss of a loved one, it will be extremely important that you gain the support of friends and loved ones as you process these changes. Of course, counseling may be helpful with your husband to help you work through your own feelings and the decisions you must be facing.

sara_1110 asks: My father passed away from suicide. I have a hard time dealing with it. Is there anything I can do?

Richard Kneip, PhD: Generally, one thing we know about grieving is that there is very little one can do to accelerate the process, and each person's grieving is unique and very personal. Losing your father must have been difficult enough for you, but to lose a loved one to suicide complicates the loss by raising obvious questions as to why, and what might have been done to prevent it. Many survivors of such suicidal deaths are plagued with guilt and thoughts that they might have been able to do something to save the deceased. This certainly is not true, and the decision to take one?s own life is highly personal and cannot be influenced by others. There are support groups for survivors of loss of a loved one by suicide, and you may be able to find information about such groups in your area on the Internet, or through your physician or local health department.

leeney02360 asks: After 33 years at the same job, I will be leaving soon and I am not yet 50. It is like a part of me died. Would getting a new job immediately help?

Richard Kneip, PhD: You make a good point in drawing the parallel to leaving a job after so long as a kind of loss for you. The loss, of course, will take the form of relationships that may be more difficult to maintain and may lapse all together. You might feel a loss in whatever sense of accomplishment you received from that job, and silly as it may seem, might feel a loss in the particular surroundings and daily rituals that no doubt was part of your work. In dealing with loss and significant change, we think it is a good idea to maintain one?s normal routines. However, I probably wouldn't counsel you to go out and get another job immediately. This might be an opportunity for you to achieve lifetime goals and dreams that might not have been possible earlier in your life. I would encourage you to explore a wide range of opportunities and carefully deliberate where you go from here.

j_strama asks: Is it better to move out of a house that a loved one died in?

Richard Kneip, PhD: In general, we would usually encourage a bereaved individual to take the time in making major decisions such as whether or not to sell a house. If sufficient time has passed for you to move beyond the acute grief that you've experienced after your loved one's death, then the decision of whether to move out would depend upon you. If, for instance, each room in the house contains memories that are extremely painful for you and continuously stir up painful feelings, then perhaps it might be good for you to make a fresh start and move on.

bellavocel asks: My mother lost a child over 35 years ago. He died on Christmas day and was 22 months old. He should not have died. She still makes this holiday difficult for all of us. Will she ever be able to celebrate this holiday normally?

Richard Kneip, PhD: In general, it is very common for bereaved individuals to experience "anniversary" reactions each year, on and around the date of the loss of their loved one. The fact that your mother lost a child, and that it happened on a day that normally is marked by joy and togetherness, complicates her grieving. After 35 years, it sounds as though the day is still filled with painful memories of the loss. While I would never expect such a difficult loss to be forgotten and the holiday to be celebrated "normally," I would hope that the family in some way would be able to incorporate the happy memories into the celebration of the holiday. Naturally, and I am sure you know this by now, your mother will need support around the time of the holidays. Also, though, you might feel inhibited from expressing feelings about the intrusion of the loss into the family's holiday celebration, it will be important for you to express these feelings and share them with the other members of the family and even with your mother, as difficult as that might be.

ravenrasberries asks: I just lost my dog and I am sad. What can I do?

Richard Kneip, PhD: We know that grieving is a very stable and predictable human reaction to a loss. While we most often think of grieving as a reaction to the loss of a loved one, as so many of the questions today have demonstrated, we can experience grieving reactions to so many experiences, such as the loss of a pet. Any pet lover will tell you that their pets have become a source of companionship, positive regard and affection, and these are all ingredients for grief reaction when they are lost. Grieving the loss of a pet is the same as grieving any loss. There is very little we can do to make it go away, and the best that we can do is to provide supportive care for ourselves as our bodies and minds adjust to the changes caused by the loss. Some common recommendations for supporting oneself during the grieving process might include 1) relying on friends and loved ones for emotional support, 2) taking care of ones health by observing healthy exercise, dietary, and sleep patterns, 3) being patient with oneself to allow the grief to follow its own course without trying to manipulate or change it, 4) being patient with others who may be uncomfortable or who may clumsily say the wrong things in attempts to console you, 5) as much as possible try to maintain your regular routines, and 6) when the time comes, don't be afraid to let go of your grief.

Thank you all for joining me today. You can find other information about grief, bereavement, depression and other psychological disorders and their treatment at

Moderator: Thank you Dr. Kneip for helping us cope with such difficult situations dealing with grief and loss, and thank you all for joining us today.

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Last Editorial Review: 10/23/2003