“All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”
– Helen Keller
Living in a culture where rituals for grief and loss are arguably limited and knowledge about the grieving process is often misunderstood can make a healthy mourning process more difficult and make it challenging to support a loved one experiencing a loss. In fact, our society’s unrealistic expectations and inappropriate responses to normal grief reactions can make the experience of grief much worse and can become a barrier to a healthy mourning process.
The term grief refers to the process of experiencing the psychological, social, and physical reactions to our perception of a loss (Rando, 1991). Additionally, it is important to understand that grief is a continually developing process with many changes over time.
There is not a single way to move through grief, although the process of moving through grief or mourning is important for our subsequent health and adjustment. Furthermore, there are often additional secondary losses such as symbolic loss, challenges to identity, roles, and relationships, as well as changes to our environment and routine. Ultimately, grief is based on our unique subjective perception of the loss and involves not only the loss of a loved one, but changes to the often complex psychological and social roles that a person or beloved pet played in our lives.
A healthy process of mourning is important for our adjustment after a loss and involves gradually undoing the psychological ties that attached us to our loved one and learning how to live in the world without our loved one.
The purpose of mourning is to express our feelings about the loss, express our protests and resistance or wish to undo the loss, and express the often-overwhelming experience of being repeatedly faced with the reality of the loss. The goal of morning is to eventually move past these reactions as we develop a new relationship to the lost loved one as well as a new sense of ourselves and the changes that have occurred as a result of the loss. Is becomes important to develop new ways of being in the world without our loved one and to reinvest our emotions in new relationships, objects, or other pursuits.
Resolving grief involves three major areas including acknowledging and understanding the loss, experiencing the pain and reacting to the separation of the loss, and moving adaptively into a new life without forgetting the old (Rando, 1991).
Give yourself permission to feel your loss and to grieve over it.
Give some form of expression to all of your feelings.
Expect to talk about many of the same things repeatedly.
Make a conscious decision to move through the grief process.
Recognize and accept your loss and work toward understanding the loss.
Allow yourself to cry and cry, talk and talk, and review and review.
Accept social support and tell others what you need.
Give yourself quiet time alone, but avoid isolating yourself.
Be realistic with your expectations as a griever and what you can expect from others.
Make sure you have accurate information about grief and mourning.
Recognize that your grief will be unique.
There is no correct way to grieve, so you must find you own way that works for you.
Do not feel the need to accept statements of others who seek to comfort you by telling you that you should feel better because of other good things or people in your life.
Do not let anyone minimize your loss.
Remember that the loss of a beloved pet can be equally as painful as the loss of a person or family member.
Look for others who can listen nonjudgmentally with permissiveness and acceptance.
Remember your lost loved one and review your mutual relationship.
Engage in rituals such as creating memorials, attending a funeral service, looking at photographs, writing, or listening to music.
Identify and work through secondary losses, such as identity, roles, routines and the changes to your environment.
Know that it is understandable that you would wish for your pain to end.
Give yourself breaks from your grief.
Work to maintain your physical health by eating when you can and engaging in physical activity as you are able.
Recognize that a major loss will always change you to some extent.
Develop a new relationship with your lost loved one and find ways to make the loss meaningful to you.
Think small and be patient.
Recognize that your pain will subside at some point as you allow yourself to mourn and move through the grief process, even if this feels impossible.
Mourning and recovering from a loss can be extraordinarily difficult. Moreover, normal grief and healthy mourning are often misunderstood. When someone close to you experiences a loss, it is important to reach out and let them know you are aware of their suffering, while giving them space to grieve and permission to ask for support.
Although it is common to be afraid of saying the wrong thing or upsetting the person who experienced the loss, it is almost always best to approach that person in a caring way to express your support, perhaps more than once, as it is often difficult to ask for support. Typically, the only unhelpful approach is to avoid, pretend that things are normal, or encourage a person to feel better or move on before they are ready. Although you may wish for your loved one to feel better, simply going about life as normal or acting as if nothing happened can be extremely invalidating and hurtful.
Be explicit about your support and allow that person to express the deep pain they feel without judgment, knowing that the tears are ultimately a good thing and part of the healing process. Remember that being present without words is often the most powerful form of support.
“Tomorrow, I will continue to be. But you will have to be very attentive to see me. I will be a flower, or a leaf. I will be in these forms and I will say hello to you. If you are attentive enough, you will recognize me, and you may greet me.” -Thich Nhat HanhTweet
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Visit us at lindquistpsych.com
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Rando, T. A. (1991). How to go on living when someone you love dies. New York: Bantam