Managing Your Grief                        Bookmark and Share

Doing Grief Work

It is when denial falls away, when you begin to recognize and experience most intensely all the reactions to your loss, that the real work of mourning begins. In ways that are personal and unique to you alone, you will gradually integrate your loss into the framework of your life, as you slowly give up the reality that included the physical presence of your loved one.

Grief work can be done through private activities such as reading and writing, and with others through talking, participating in bereavement counseling or finding support in a group. It is an active rather than a passive process, not only of coming to terms with your loss, but also of finding meaning in it as well.  Such work takes enormous energy. It is both emotionally and physically exhausting, and may well be the hardest work you’ll ever do, but it can also produce tremendous healing and growth.  

Identifying a Personal Support System

Think about and identify the people, groups and activities in your life that form your personal network of support and help give meaning to your life. Consider asking a friend or family member to help you develop a more complete listing, especially if you don’t have the energy to do this by yourself. Write down each potential source of support, including their name, telephone number and address, so you’ll have them handy when you need them.

People you can depend on might include family members, relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers, colleagues, clergy, your family physician, family lawyer, accountant, insurance agent and hospice bereavement staff.

Groups might include your church community or your affiliation with work or special interest circles, clubs and organizations, and hospice bereavement support groups. Activities include whatever brings you satisfaction, relaxation, comfort or relief, such as meditating, writing or journaling; engaging in hobbies (gardening, photography, collecting) or arts and crafts (painting, drawing, modeling); listening to or making music; or simply talking and crying.  Other suggestions:  

  • List all the interests, activities, hobbies, courses or skills you’ve enjoyed in the past or always wanted to pursue, and follow up on at least one of them each week or each month.
  • Visit your public library or local bookstore and ask for information, literature, films, audiocassettes and videotapes on grief, bereavement and loss.  
  • Find local chapters of national self-help and support organizations related to your specific type of loss.
  • Watch and listen for announcements of lectures, workshops and seminars on grief in the community. (Check local radio and television stations, newspapers and bulletin boards in your grocery store, library, church or school.)
  • Use the keywords grief and grieving, or follow the links on this website, and visit some of the many other sites on the World Wide Web that offer information and support to people who are mourning. 
  • If you work outside your home, let your supervisor or employer know what’s happening in your life. Assure them that, although you may not be at your best right now, you have every reason to believe that in time your performance will return to normal.  

Seeing a Bereavement Counselor

 Sometimes friends and family may worry too much about you, get too involved in your personal affairs, or not be available to you at all. When it seems that support from family and friends is either too much or not enough, a few sessions with a bereavement counselor may give you the understanding and comfort you need.

Unlike friendship, a professional counseling relationship offers you the opportunity to relate to a caring, supportive individual who understands the grief process, doesn’t need you to depend upon, and will allow you to mourn without interference. Within the safety and confidentiality of a therapeutic relationship, you can share your intimate thoughts, make sense of what you’re feeling and clarify your reactions. An effective bereavement counselor is knowledgeable about the mourning process, helps you feel understood, offers a witness to your experience, encourages you to move forward, fosters faith that you will survive, and offers hope that you will get through your grief.

Seeing a bereavement counselor is appropriate if  

  • you feel uncomfortable with yourself or find yourself unable to function normally.
  • you have reactions from which you can get no relief, or over which you feel no control.  
  • you wonder if your responses are normal, or if they’ve gone on too long.  
  •  you have thoughts or feelings you feel guilty about or you’re reluctant to share with anyone else.  

Finding Support in a Group

Unfortunately friends, family members and co-workers may not fully understand or appreciate the attachment you have with your loved one and the pain you may still be feeling weeks and months after the death of your loved one. What is more, your need to talk about your loss may outlast the willingness of others to listen. So later in your mourning a support group may be one of the few places where you can come to be among others who understand, and where you can still talk about the one you have loved and lost.

A bereavement support group provides a safe, structured place where normal, healthy people bound by the experience of loss can come together on a regular basis to share their stories, get their concerns and feelings validated, learn more about the grieving process, express and work through their feelings, and reflect with one another on the meaning of it all. Members have the opportunity to grow by giving help as well as receiving it.   

How To Find Grief Support in Your Own Community

  • Call your telephone operator or public library and ask for the numbers for your local mental health association or your local suicide prevention center. Either agency will have good grief referral lists. You need not be suicidal to get a grief referral from a suicide prevention center.

  • Use the Yellow Pages and call hospitals and hospices near you. Ask to speak with the Bereavement Coordinator, Social Worker, or Chaplain's Office to get a local grief referral. Many hospitals and hospices provide individual and family grief support to clients for up to one year following a death, and offer bereavement support groups to the general public at no cost. 

  • The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization maintains a database of hospices for each state in the United States.  To search for a hospice in your own community, click on Find a Hospice Program.

  • If you are mourning the death of a child, check the national office of the Compassionate Friends to see if there is a support group near you.


Copyright © by Martha M. Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC    All rights reserved

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