Understanding the Grief
Grief is a normal yet highly personal response to loss.
Neither an illness nor a pathological condition, it is a natural process
that, depending on how it is managed and understood, can lead to healing
and personal growth.
Grief is extremely powerful. It can catch you totally unprepared, knock you off balance and shake
you to the core. It can be painful beyond words ó physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually ó
and it can change your life completely. Grief serves to remind
you how fragile life is and how vulnerable you are to loss. It can make
your present life seem meaningless, and take away your hope for the
Understanding the process and knowing what to expect can help you cope.
Your pattern of progressing through your grief will be uneven, unpredictable
and unique, with no specific time frame. But the more you learn about
grief, the better you can cope with it. In the beginning it will seem as
if your grief is running you, but in the end, you can learn to run your
grief. When you understand
what is happening to you and have some idea of what to expect, you will
feel more in control of your grief and will be in a better position to
take care of yourself, to find your own way through this loss and to
begin rebuilding your life.
The worst kind of grief is the grief youíre experiencing now. Donít
compare your grief with anyone elseís, and know that, at this moment,
your loss is the worst thing that could happen to anyone. Acknowledge
that your loss is worthy of grief, and accept that you must endure the
very real feelings of sorrow.
Grief work is very hard and takes enormous energy.
as you may want to do so, there is no way to avoid this grief of yours.
You cannot wait it out; you wonít get over it quickly, and nobody can
do it for you. Itís called grief work because finding your way through
grief is hard work,
and if you put it off, like a messy chore it will sit there waiting to
be done. And the longer it waits, the harder it becomes.
Effective mourning is not done alone.
friends and family members may be finished with your grief long before
you are finished with your need to talk about it, and unexpressed
feelings can become distorted. It is important that you find an
understanding, nonjudgmental listener with whom you can openly
acknowledge your feelings and experiences, express and work through your
pain, and come to terms with your loss. If friends and family arenít
as available as you need them to be, or if your need exceeds their
capacity to help, consider attending a support group or seeking help
from a bereavement counselor.
How grief is expressed varies among individuals. Everyone
grieves differently, according to their age, gender, personality, culture,
value system, past experience with loss, and available support. Grieving
differs among members of the same family, as each personís relationship
with and attachment to the deceased family member varies. How you will
react to this death depends on how youíve responded to other crises in
your life; on what was lost when this death happened (not only the
life of the person who died, but certain aspects of your own life as well:
your way of life; who you were in your relationship with that person and
who you planned to be; your hopes and dreams for the future); on who died
(spouse, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, relative, friend or other;
how you lived together and what that person meant to you); on the personís role
in your family; on when the death occurred (at what point in the
life cycle: yours as well as that of the person who died); and on how
(the circumstances surrounding the death, and how the death occurred).
of grief are typical, common and normal. Although grief is as
individual as you are, some feelings and reactions are universal. Their
intensity will vary, and theyíll happen in no particular order. You may
experience all, some or none of them; they may happen only once or many
times, sometimes several years after your loved oneís death. Respect
your own feelings and reactions. Take time to look, listen, experience and
understand them. They are natureís way of getting your attention.
Grief is a lifelong process. While the agonizing pain
of loss diminishes in intensity over time, itís never gone completely.
It is absolutely normal to feel the aftershock of loss for the rest of
your life. Grieving is not a reaction to a single event, like an illness
that can be cured and from which you will recover. Itís more like a deep
wound that eventually heals and closes, but whose terrible scar remains
and still can hurt at times.
Death may have ended your loved oneís life, but it did not end your
relationship. The bond
you have will continue and endure throughout your lifetime, depending on
how you take your memories and your past with you into the future. Many
grievers report maintaining an active connection with their deceased loved
ones by talking to them, dreaming about them, sensing their presence or
feeling watched over and protected by them. It is normal and healthy to
foster these continuing bonds, as you decide how your loved one will be
remembered, memorialized and included in your family and community life.
Time does not heal grief. Time is neutral. It is not the passage of time alone that heals.
It is what you do with time that matters. Now that this
death has happened to you, you must decide what you can do with your
grief. Grieving is an active process, not a passive one, and recovery is a
choice. Coping with grief involves many courses of action, and as you find
your way through this first year of grief, you will learn how to use this
grieving time to help you heal yourself.
There is no right or wrong way to do the work of grieving.
There is only your way, and you must discover it for yourself.
There is no magic formula, no short cut, and no easy way out. Grief is
like a long, winding tunnel whose entrance is closed behind you, and the
only way out is through.
Copyright © by Martha M. Tousley,
RN, MS, FT, DCC All