by Therese A. Rando, Ph.D.
Specific Suggestions for Resolving Your Grief.
We will identity the specific steps you must take to ensure that you successfully complete your grief work, learn to live with your loss, and adjust to your new life accordingly, ultimately recovering optimally from your loved one’s death.
Give yourself permission to Feel Your Loss and to Grieve over It.
In order for you to work on your grief, you have to feel that it is acceptable for you to do so. If you do not acknowledge or understand the death, or if you believe that you must be “strong” and should not express emotions or can have only positive feelings, then you will not be able to allow yourself to grieve. If you want to work through your grief you will need to give yourself the permission-the license and the time, opportunities, and acceptance-necessary to complete the process.
Recognize and accept your loss. You must come to an intellectual acceptance of the fact that, despite all your wishes to the contrary, the loss has actually occurred, your loved one is indeed dead, and he will not return, at least not in this life. If the loss is not real to you, you will not have to grapple with it implications or your feelings about it you will not have to grieve it.
Work toward understanding the death. You need to understand the reasons for the events that led to the death. This does not mean that you are unmoved by the death, that you like it, or even that you can fit it into your system of meaning. It only means that you recognize that the death occurred and have your own account explaining how and why it happened. Not having the explanation of the event would make it quite difficult for you to go on, not only with your grief but with your life as well.
Feel and deal with all of your emotions and thoughts about the death. Some of these may be upsetting or unacceptable to you, or they appear to be uncharacteristic of the way you usually are. Nevertheless, you must give yourself permission to experience all of them-the good and the bad, the happy and the unhappy-or else your grief can never bye resolved. Grieving means allowing yourself to feel you feelings, think your thoughts, lament your loss, and pretest your pain. Your focus must be on working through the unpleasant and negative parts of the lost relationship, as well as the more positive ones.
Make a conscious decision to get through this grief. You can decide whether you will triumph over your grief or whether it will vanquish you. Successful mourners often report that often in the early stage of grief and intermittently thereafter, they made a decision to survive their grief and not to let death destroy their lives. Typically they went from “I don’t care about anything” to “sometimes I care” to “I care.” This does not mean that grief wasn’t as hard on them as everybody else. It means that they made a commitment to themselves (and often to loved ones) to continue to work it through and to make life meaningful again, even if it took a very long time and much pain before this could happen.
Accept Social Support and Tell Others What You Need
Mourners desperately need the support and assistance of others-their presence, nonjudgmental listening, compassion, and concern-to help them cope with their grief. This is one of the most crucial requirements in grief. Ensure that you have people around to aid you, and permit yourself to accept their assistance when it is given. Many people will not know how to help you, so you must educate them. If you are not being offered what you require, ask for what you need or go after what you want.
Do not isolate yourself. Social support is vital through the entire grief process. It helps you better tolerate the pain of your loss, and it provides you with the acceptance and assistance necessary to complete your grief work and ultimately move back in the new world without your loved one. The presence of accepting and nonjudgmental others can be very helpful to you, especially early after the death, when you need to feel grounded in the midst of all the chaos. They can help give some security, order, and a sense of reality to your world, which has been shaken by the death of the person you love. Although they cannot give you what you most desire-that is, the return of your deceased loved one-they can help you with their genuine care and compassion. It is well known that when grievers are socially isolated they tend to do more poorly in resolving their grief.
Accept the help and support of others. Let others reach out to you in all ways-physically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. In the early period of grief, it is perfectly acceptable for you to give up some control and let others assist and nurture you. They may keep you company, make meals, run some errands, help you make funeral decisions, or baby sit your children. This does not mean that you are weak, immature, or dependent. It also does not mean that they can do your grief work for you. It only means that you permit yourself to take the comfort and aid you need in order to meet the heavy demands of grief. Allowing yourself to accept support now will make you stronger later.
Be assertive; tell others what you need, and go after what you want. You must be assertive in your grief. You must ask for what you need and want. You may or may not get it, but you should try, and you ought to feel comfortable about doing so. Often this is difficult to do, as you have little energy to reach out. However, many people who would like to help you do not know how. If you want their assistance, you must educate them about grief. For example, you might tell your extended family that when they visit at the holidays you do not want them to avoid mentioning your deceased loved one. Or you may tell a friend that you want her to ask how you are doing even though you cry, or that your anger is a normal reaction. It is unfortunate that at this time when you are so depleted you have to teach others how to help you. However, not to do this means you may suffer from the inappropriate expectations of others or a lack of the assistance you do need.
If what you want is not available from those around you, go and seek it out. If you do not have people to talk with about your loss, determine who can help and reach out. This is why self-help groups are so popular. Go after what you need to help you resolved this loss.
Be Realistic in Your Expectation of Yourself as a Griever
You must have realistic expectations of yourself. These will influence how you allow yourself to experience your grief and what you will let yourself do about it. To be realistic about yourself as a griever, you must have accurate information about grief in general and your loss in particular; be well aware of the uniqueness of your own grief experience and how to keep others from interfering with it, despite their often good intentions; know that you can take time to fit it into your religious or philosophical framework; and realize that, if you are doing your grief work, your pain will subside at some point.
Make sure you have accurate information about grief in general and a proper perspective on what it realistic. You will need this so that your expectations of yourself are appropriate and realistic and so that you can evaluate yourself fairly. This includes having all the facts about grief: its nature; its purpose; how it proceeds and how long it takes; and the manner and extent to which it affects you in all areas of your life. Unrealistic expectations of negative feelings about essentially normal reactions cause the majority of problems in grief. You need to understand what is normal and react accordingly. For example, you must recognize that grief normally involves reactions that would signify mental illness in other circumstances, or that may be contrary to the way you usually are. You have to give yourself room to experience many unusual reactions without feeling that you are crazy.
Be realistic about the amount of time the process of grief will require. Grief is a choppy “tow steps forward, one step backward: experience that will continue for much longer than you had anticipated and will expose you to more feelings than you ever knew you could have. For this reason, initially you should adopt a “one day at a time” approach to avoid being overwhelmed.
Make sure you have accurate information about this death in particular and what problems it presents to a griever. Besides knowing about grief in general, you must have an understanding of the specific consequences of this type of death. You should know how they influence your grief and what issues they will bring up to you.
Expect to have some negative feelings and volatile reactions. You are not a bad person. Anger, protest, upset, or lack of concern for others are all natural, normal and expectable in grief. No matter what type of person you usually are, you can expect that you will have some measure of less-than-positive feelings somewhere along in your grief.
Recognize that your grief will be unique. Despite the fact that you will share some similarities with other grievers, your grief is unique to you and your particular loss. It is shaped by the unique group of factors that describe your particular loss: what you have lost, how you have lost it, your personal characteristics, and the social and physical factors influencing your response. You must be careful about comparing yourself to others. For example, even though two sisters each lose their brother, they will grieve differently according to their special, individual relationship with him and the other factors that influence their particular grief responses.
It doesn’t make any difference what others think. This is your loss. Do not be talked out of it. You will need to define and decide for yourself what are ht biggest problems for you, prioritize your concerns, and deal with these concerns as well as you can. Do not let others’ personal judgments about the meaning of your loss rob you of your grief or determine how you should feel or what you should do. For example, just because others do not think you should be grieved over the death of your grandparent does not mean that there is anything wrong with you if you feel grieved. The seriousness of your loss and what you need to do about it can only be understood in the context of what this loss means to you. It cannot be compared to other losses for other people.
There is no one correct way to grieve, so you must find the best way for yourself. As long as you are attending to the tasks of grief, and are not causing yourself any additional stress by your coping behaviors, you should go through the grief process in your own way. There are many different ways of reaching the same destination; you can chooses your own style and do things in ways that are comfortable for you. Be careful about following all the advice of well-meaning others. Critically evaluate the advice and determine if it is right for you in terms of your own personal ways of dealing with stress, crisis, and grief. This does not mean you shouldn’t listen to feedback from others. This is important, especially when you might be too close to the situation to think clearly. It merely means making sure of its suitability and usefulness for you.
Keep in mind that the death of your loved one will affect your family as well as yourself. Different family members will have different reactions, and you all may stimulate each other’s grief at times. Remember that a death in the family means that your family will have to reorganize itself and that new roles and responsibilities must be assigned. With the death of your loved one, you also lose the family as you had known it, despite the fact that it continues on without the person who died.
Maintain a realistic perspective on what you can expect from others in your grief. Recognize that despite their desire to be of help, no one can take away your pain, they only can help you to deal with it. You also must realize that others may feel helpless around you. However, this does not mean you should not continue to reach out for their support and ask them for what you need.
Do not feel that you must accept the statements of others who seek to comfort you by tellling you that you should feel better because you have other loved ones still alive. Do not allow anyone to rob you of your legitimate grief. Do not let anyone make you feel guilty or being sad despite the fact that you still have good things in your life. You can appreciate what you do have, but this does not minimize your grief over what you have lost. These statements are well-meaning attempts to console you but you do not have to accept them.
Do not let other’ needs determine your grief experience. Ask for what you want or need. Do not let others determine what you will and will not do. Of course, you don’t want to alienate those who are supporting you, but if these people love you they will have to understand that there are things you need to do to help yourself resolve your grief. For instance, there will be times when you will need to cry despite the fact that it makes them uncomfortable. Essentially you must recognize that you have rights as a mourner and that you need to exercise them.
Do not let anyone minimize your loss, but do not give up realistic hope either. Sometimes people try to “pretty up” your situation. You are right in maintaining that grief is exceptionally difficult. There are times when it will be quite painful and times when it will not make any sense. You will have to deal with many unpleasant feelings. However, you must not give up hope: hope that someday the pain will decrease; hope that someday you will have a reunion with your loved one; hope that someday life will have some meaning again; and so forth. These are not unrealistic hopes that would deny or invalidate your current intense experience of grief or the permanent changes that result from the death of your loved one. Rather these are realistic aspirations that you need to have to get you through the painful experience of responding to the death of someone you have loved.
Try not to respond in ways that are contrary to appropriate grief. Your behavior should be aimed at reaching the goals of grief work and promoting the resolution of your loss. Behaviors that are opposed to this will not be helpful. For example, do not try to censor your anger or guilt, take a tranquilizer merely to avoid some distress, or in other ways avoid or delay the grief work you must accomplish. It is important for you to take breaks from your grief from time to time, but this must be done with the recognition that you have to come back to it and deal with it. In an effort to help alleviate your pain, others may make suggestions that are contrary to appropriate grief; for instance, the may tell you not to cry. While you may want to follow these suggestions, you must realize that they will not help your grief work.
Recognize that, despite your being unable to feel that it’s true, your pain will subside at some point of you continue to do your grief work. It is understandable to have many doubts. This is only normal, especially when you are in the middle of acute grief and cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel. However, you must keep in mind that there is a purpose to your grief and that at some point your pain will diminish, you will experience more peace, and you will be somewhat more like your old self than you are now.
Give Some Form of Expression to All of your Feelings
Feeling and expressing your emotions is one of the most critical requirements in grief. It is absolutely necessary in order for grief resolution to occur. If you can find avenues of expression that are personally comfortable, can differentiate among all of your various feelings, and can find people who will listen to you about them, you will be in a very good position as a mourner.
Identify, accept, and express all of your various feelings over the loss and its consequences. This is the most important task in grief. If you do not find an acceptable way to express all your feelings of grief, you will not be able to resolve it. Dealing with only some of them will not do. You first may have to give yourself permission to violate previous social, cultural, ethnic, religious, or personal resistances to accepting certain feelings of grief as tolerable or normal. These then must be identified. For example, “This is anger that I’m feeling” or “this must be the guilt they say is so common.” Finally, you will have to express them in some fashion in order to resolve your grief.
You will need to find ways to express your feelings that are comfortable for you. For some people, talking bout their anger is sufficient; others need ways to act it out, such as running, hitting a punching bag, or pounding on a bed. Some people find that it is helpful to write about their feelings. Others use art, dance, or other avenues of expression to release their emotions. It does not make any difference which manner you choose.
You may surprise yourself at how you express your feelings-some grievers cannot believe they could swear so much or scream so loudly-but this doesn’t mean you are losing control, only that you have many emotions that cannot be handled by your usual modes of expression. As long as you are releasing them healthily, and you are not causing yourself and additional problems with you choice of expression, it is all right.
You will have to give expression to all of your feelings, the negative ones as well as the positive ones. Intellectualizing them, that is, dealing with them in your head but not in your heart, will do you little good.
You repeatedly must allow yourself to cry and cry, talk and talk, review and review without the interruption of anyone else’s sanity. This is a necessary part of the process, especially in the early period of acute grief. Do no close it down in any way, shape, or form; it will enable you to complete your grief work. You will have to go through the procedure again and again. Each story told, each memory relived, each feeling expressed represents a tie to your loved one that you must process by remembering, feeling the emotions generated by it, and then letting it go. If you are dealing appropriately with your grief work, each time you do this you are getting more resolution of your grief.
Differentiate clearly among your various feelings of grief so that each one can be fully processed and your grief can be better managed. You need to separate your different feelings so that they are more manageable and don’t burden you under one huge, confusing mass of mixed painful emotions that is too hard to deal with. This requires that you recognize and label each one. For example, sorrow is different from depression, although they sometimes can feel all mixed up together. Separating them gives you more of a sense of control. By breaking the pain of grief down into its component parts, you can address each one individually and do what is necessary to cope with it. It is much easier to cope with specific feelings than with global, undifferentiated (and thus more terrifying) pain.
You then need to identify the specific sources for each feeling. For example, your anger may come from the sense of desertion you feel; your helplessness may be a result of your inability to reverse the loss; and you anxiety may develop over your concerns about being alone. Also, you probably have to learn the difference between issues and feelings pertaining to this loss and those that have been resurrected from previous loss and old unfinished business in your past. This too, will lessen the emotion confusion you may feel now.
Look for those who can listen to you nonjudgmentally and with permissiveness and acceptance. You need repeated opportunities to express your emotions without fear of rejection. This is critical, since so many feelings of grief and unacceptable and guilt-provoking to any mourner. It is important for you to talk about your grief and sorry. As Shakespeare wrote: “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break” (Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 3). If you do not feel accepted, this very necessary therapeutic process will by stymied.
If you appear to be resisting the grief process, ask yourself why and try to change it. Many people are afraid to express their emotions of grief, fearing they will lose control or break down. Some are afraid to deal with their feelings out of concern that they will lose a connection to their loved one. For others, there may be excessive dependency, anger, or guilt that interferes with the normal grief process. If you discover that a concern in one of these areas or some other resistance of yours is interfering with your grief, review the information about normal grief. If you still are concerned that something is interfering with your grief, seek processional assistance to work it through.
Remember the Deceased and Review Your Mutual Relationship
Realistically remembering the deceased and your relationship, plus obsessively reviewing your memories and the feelings associated with them will be necessary process in your grief. Only in this way can you withdraw your emotional investment in your lost loved one, form a new relationship with him that reflects the reality of his death, and build anew relationships in the new world without him.
You will have to realistically review and talk about the deceased and your mutual relationship. You will have to repeatedly review the entire relationship, back to its earliest beginnings and all the hopes and fantasies that formed it. You will need to discuss its ups and downs, its course and development, its crises and joys-all aspects of it through the years. As these events are gently unfolded in your memory, you relive them and examine the feelings associated with them. Only by obsessively reviewing this unique relationship will you be able to experience and identify the feelings you have that must be processed. You do this gradually over time by feeling them and then letting go of their emotional charge, which had kept you connected to the deceased in the way you were when he was alive and your emotional energy from your loved one and reestablish a new relationship with him that is not based on the give-and-take of real life.
To do this completely, you must address both the positive and negative aspects of the deceased and your relationship with him. Initially the review may tend to be overly positive and you may idealize your loved one. In time, you will be able to remember him in a more accurate way that recalls the good and the bad. You will have a more realistic image of the deceased and see him as having both positive and negative traits, as we all do. Unless you can remember what he wasn’t, as well as what he was, you have not fully grieved. To reach this point, repeated discussion of all aspects of the person and your relationship with him is necessary. This means you not only review the happy times but also the times that were not as happy.
Expect to talk about many of the same things repeatedly. You will need to review again and again your attachments and relationship to your deceased loved one and the circumstance of his death. Not only the dramatic memories need to be remembered, the ones that bring tears-and they all do. This repetition is part of the critical process of withdrawing your former emotional investment so that you can develop a different relationship with the person that reflects the reality of his death. It also will free you to have new investments and form new relationships in the future. The process of review allows you to see repeatedly that your needs, feelings, hopes, desires and expectations for being with your loved one are continually being frustrated. You can no longer be with the deceased as you used to be. This helps you to start to accept the finality of the death and to detach from him. Reviewing the situation of the death, the events that surrounded it, and its meanings and implications will allow you to understand how things occurred, put them into perspective, and find some meaning and sense in them. Each time the story is told, each time you experience the feelings associated with a thought or memory of what you lost, you get more of a handle on them and a little more control over them.
You have to review not only the deceased and your mutual relationship but also all of the hopes, dreams, expectations, wishes, and needs that accompanied it. These are major secondary losses that must be reviewed, felt, and process in order to accomplish your grief work.
Identify and Work to Resolve Your Secondary Losses and Unfinished Business
When your loved one dies, you must grieve not only for his physical death but also for the secondary losses that are occurring now and will occur in the future as a consequence of his death. Also, you must try to finish any unfinished emotional business you had with him so that it does not interfere with your grief resolution.
Identify and grieve for the current and potential secondary losses (both physical and symbolic) that result from the death. These losses will require their own grief responses. Too often they are overlooked and not identified as legitimate losses. Simply because they are secondary does not mean they are insignificant; frequently they are harder to resolve than the initial loss. Examples of such secondary losses are loss of the hopes and expectations for the relationship; loss of a sexual partner; loss of time with children because of the necessity of working; partial loss of the person you used to be; loss of social life as it had previously been experienced; and loss of the home to pay for medical expenses. Don’t overwhelm yourself with attempting to deal with these secondary losses all at once. They can be addressed gradually. The important thing is that at some point they do get worked through and you can come to some resolution of them.
Identify any unfinished business you had with the deceased and look for appropriate ways to have closure. Unfinished business can prevent you from resolving your grief. As mentioned previously, unfinished business refers to those emotional issues that were never addressed or resolved in the relationship between you and the deceased. For example, were you able to express the things you needed or wanted to express to one another? Did you come to some resolution about your mutual relationship? Were there any loose ends in the relationshop that were not addressed? Unfinished business remains just that-unfinished. This lack of completion provokes anxiety and may cause you to search restlessly for an opportunity to come to closure with your lost loved one. You may need to find some way to say the never-said “I love you,” “I need you, “ or “I’m sorry.”
Although you cannot have the actual interaction with your loved one that you would like, there are ways that you can deal with unfinished business. Fancy techniques are not needed. Frequently, a discussion with caring others about what you would have wanted to say or do can help. Sometimes writing a letter to your lost loved one can be therapeutic. You may want to crate a particular ritual or do something symbolic to finish the unfinished business. Whatever the unfinished business is, you need to determine what you must do in order to achieve a satisfactory sense of completion in your relationship with the deceased. If this cannot happen, you may need to see professional assistance in finding ways to do this.
Yield Productively to the Grief Process, Taking Care of Yourself as You do It
In your grief, you must balance between actively feeling and dealing with the pain and work of grief and taking care of yourself while you are doing it in order not to wear yourself out in the process.
Recognize that you must yield to the painful process of grief. As stated earlier, there is no way to go over, around, or under grief-you must go through it. Grief cannot be delayed indefinitely; it will erupt in some way, directly or indirectly. The inescapable fact is that you have sustained a major loss requiring a painful period of readjustment that demands excruciatingly hard work and causes more pain and trouble if you do not attend to it. If you want to get done with your grief, you must go through the pain. Although the pain is distressing, the experience and release of it is a healing part of the process.
Know that it is understandable that you would wish to avoid the pain of grief. There is nothing wrong with you if you wish there was some way you could avoid the pain. You would have to be a masochist to haven any other feelings. It is common to want to avoid the pain and just as common to wish that you did not have to change your emotional attachment to the person who has died. You wish that the world would go back to the way it used to be, when your loved one was alive. Although it is only natural to want to escape grief and its painful emotions, you must continue with your grief work in order to be able to go on with your life in a healthy fashion.
You must be patient with yourself and not expect too much. Don’t impose any “shoulds” on yourself about the grief process unless you are quite sure that they are appropriate. Even if they are, you must give yourself the time to deal with them. Grief takes much time and energy. It will progress at an uneven pace. You will make progress and than backslide again, but you will never go back as far as you were when you initially confronted the death. Make sure that your expectations are appropriate, and do not additionally stress yourself by unrealistic standards.
Give yourself quiet time alone. As important as talking about your loss and receiving social support is in your grief, you will need some amount of tranquility and solitude. If you do not save some of this kind of time for yourself you will not have sufficient opportunity to reflect on your loss, review the relationship, process your feelings, and so forth. Avoid constantly being with others or always being on the go-this can be a way to postpone or repress your grief. Find a happy medium between tending to your own personal needs and those of others.
Understand that grief involves not only dealing with emotional responses but coping with practical problems as well. Worries about finances, a lack of education that precludes a better job, and other practical, day-to-day concerns are significant stressors to many bereaved individuals. So, too, are the grief-related practical concerns with which you must contend, for example, not knowing what to do with your loved one’s clothes and personal effects. Unfortunately, many others in society will not recognize their importance to you, and often fail to offer adequate understanding and support in these areas. Try your best to avoid being overcome by these problems. Recognize that grief is an overwhelming experience, and take your problems one at a time, responding to demands when necessary but accepting help and support with them when possible.
Give yourself breaks from your grief. You cannot focus on your grief exclusively all the time. Every so often you need to take a respite from it, just as you would if you were engaged in heavy physical labor. This will allow you to get the energy to continue with your grief work. For example, you will need some solitude so you can replenish yourself, but also should allow yourself to enjoy other people and other aspects of life. This is not a betrayal of your lost loved one. It is an important aspect of caring for yourself so that you can resolve your grief at some point in time.
Find a variety of ways to replenish yourself following the sever depletion that results form the loss of your loved one. The ongoing strain of grief, in which you are continually giving out and giving up, makes it essential for you to replenish yourself in a number of ways. Such things as adequate rest and nutrition are important, as your grief work requires enormous energy. You also will need social support in order to face the painful processes of grief and all they entail, and will benefit from any other appropriate sources of emotional nurturance that can help you to recover from the sources of emotional nurturance that can help you to recover from the pain. Intellectually, religion or philosophy, literature, art and the media can give you ways to find meaning in the loss or simply allow you to escape reality for a while. If you fail to replenish yourself, you will “burn out” in your grief and not be any good to anyone, including yourself.
Avoid making precipitous changes or engaging in flight. Some grievers attempt to cope by moving, taking an extended vacation, or making significant changes. If you do this too early, you will find that you are stripped of your roots and the security of your familiar surroundings. In the future these changes may be helpful to you as you attempt to relinquish some of the past and integrate new roles into your life and personality. However, changes that happen too soon will result in more loss for you at a time when you are already overwhelmed with many losses. For this reason, if at all possible, don’t make important decisions and major changes during the first year of bereavement. If these changes must be made, discuss them with trusted friends and advisors who can lend an objective perspective to the situation in the event that your decision-making still is affected by your grief. Sometimes actions may appear viable and productive to you but will only cause further disorganization, stress, or secondary losses.
Engage in some form or physical activity to release your pent-up emotions. Grief often can make you feel angry, frustrated, victimized, guilty, anxious, and depressed. These types of feelings are difficult to talk about and can easily become channeled into physical symptoms. Physical activity can reduce tension and anxiety, release aggression, and relieve depression and other unpleasant feelings-all components of the grief reaction. Physical activity also helps prevent further physical and psychological problems due to the grief process.
Work to maintain good physical healthy. If you are to endure the difficult grief process and avoid physical complications, it is important for you to have good physical health. As mentioned earlier, you must make sure you get sufficient exercise and rest. Drugs must be avoided, unless medically prescribed. A balanced diet is important, and you should give special attention to calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus, all of which are depleted by the stress of grief. It is important for you to remember to eat even at times when you are not hungry. You will have to keep up your energy in order to do your grief work.
It is inadvisable to resort to medication too soon in an attempt to avoid the pain of the loss. However, it is equally inadvisable to fail to recognize when medical treatment is necessary. Physical symptoms of psychological distress can interfere with the grief process-for example, not sleeping or not eating for a long period of time. Don’t ignore the physical aspects of grief in favor of focusing exclusively on the psychological ones. Get appropriate medical evaluation and treatment when your symptoms warrant it. Grief is a time of high physical risk, and therefore you need to act to minimize adverse physical consequences. A number of them may be normal in grief, but at times they persist for too long or are too acute and you will require professional assistance.
Seek professional assistance if necessary. Many people need professional assistance either to help them experience the natural grief processes or to work through conflicts impending normal mourning. If you need this type of support or intervention, make sure you get it or else you will not be able to resolve your grief.
Accommodate to the Loss of Your Loved One
Major changes must occur in your life when someone you love dies. As you meet the new world without your loved one, you are required to develop a new identity, altered roles, and additional skills. You need to determine how to make the death meaningful o you and in what ways you will want to continue to relate you your loved one. Finally, at the proper time you need it reinvest emotionally in other people, objects, activities, or beliefs in your new life and to recognize whatever gain has been derived from your loss.
You will need to develop the proper perspective on what resolution of your grief will mean. You will never forget the loss, but the pain can diminish. You will survive, but you will not be exactly the same. There will always be reminders of your loss. One purpose of grief is to help you to recognize this fact and continue living, without inappropriate clinging to your deceased loved one.
Recognize that a major loss will always change you to some extent. Again, you will never be exactly the same as you were before your loved one died. Very simply, this is because adapting to a loved one’s loss makes it necessary for you to make numerous changes in yourself.
You will have to form a new identity. For all who lose a loved one, where once where was a “we”, now there is “I”. This is a highly significant and painful transition which you must make. It involved developing new expectations and beliefs about the world without your loved one, along with new roles and skills for you in that world. As you develop your new identity, you will need new friends to validate it. This does not mean you will not need the support and continuity provided by old friends, but new relationship with people who share important elements of your new identify can prevent your feeling alienated and isolated. For example, if you are a newly widowed woman, you may be interested in associating g with other widows because they have coped with similar problems and may understand what it is like to feel like a fifth wheel in social situations. The same is true for other types of mourners-there is a great benefit in some association with others who can support us in our new identities. This is why mutual self-help groups are so important.
Determine which roles you must take on or give up as a consequence of the death and which skills you must develop; then incorporate these into your life. This will not only ensure replacement of necessary functions and fulfillment of certain needs, but also give you a sense of control and help you develop your new identity in the world without your loved one. For example, in terms of roles, a widower may need to learn how to “mother” his children and, in terms of skills may benefit from some cooking classes. A widow might learn to relate to the neighborhood as the family spokes-person, and might have to be taught how to handle the time management problems of being a single parent.
Changes from your past identity must be noted and grieved, both losses and gains. Understand that such changes are stressful. Ask for help and support in making them and in problem-solving the concerns and dealing with the feelings they bring up in you. Related to this, you need to recognize what aspects of yourself have remained constant despite the trauma of your loss, since this will provide you with a much needed sense of security and continuity. For example, it might be helpful for you to see that in spite of all you have been through, you still have a sense of humor.
You will need to form a healthy new relationship with your deceased loved one. Although death has separated you from your loved one, it has not ended your relationship. It simply means that the relationship has changed from one based on her presence to one relating to memories of the past. Your new relationship with her will have to reflect this fact.
Decide in what appropriate ways you can keep the deceased’s memory alive and continue to relate to her. Find new ways to relate to your deceased love one while maintaining the proper perspective on the new relationship. This can be done through identification and through ritual behaviors-for example, anniversary celebrations, prayers, commemorative donations, and grace over dinner. You can foster the deceased’s memory through concrete symbols such as a photograph of memento or through your own life and actions-for instance, talking about her or taking on her concerns.
Do not equate the length and amount of your suffering with some kind of testimony to your love for the deceased. This will only promote unresolved grief. You must understand the healthy grief does not mean abandoning the loved one but rather developing a new relationship based on loving memory. This change eventually should free you to have other relationships, which should not be seen as betrayals of your loved one. Suffering should not be seen as a bond to the deceased or as proof of the value of the relationship.
Find some way to make this death meaningful to you. A major loss often begins a search for meaning, not only meaning regarding the loss but also for the griever’s life. Since the continuity of your life has been disrupted, you must develop a new set of assumptions about the world that will account for the death of your loved one and your situation of being without her. For example, if you previously assumed that the good will be protected by God, you probably will have t reexamine this idea if your young child has been senselessly killed. When trying to understand why your loss occurred, you may need guidance in answering the questions that can be answered and accepting the fact that some cannot. You may have to arrive at a point where you realize that you may never understand why the loss happened, but that there may be a reason that cannot by understood. This is particularly important for those who have had an untimely loss, such as the death of a child or the murder of a loved one.
Everyone needs a reason to live. Therefore, you will need to identify beliefs and actions that will provide you with a renewed sense of purpose in your life. At first you probably will feel that there is no reason to go on, and you may have to go forth solely on the hope that in time meaning will be restored. If the death has provoked a crisis of faith in beliefs you previously held, perhaps new or renewed religious and philosophical ideals can supply reason and order to you. You may find it helpful to decide that something meaningful will come out of the death of your loved one. This is what has been done by those who have campaigned for stiffer drunk-driving legislation after the death of a loved one in an accident caused by drunk driver. Essentially, you need to find a reason to go on. It can be based on the need that others have for you, on spiritual goals or on humanistic concerns. If you can find a “why” to live, you will able to find “how” to survive.
Think small-goals, pleasures, progress. Grief resolution will not happen fast. Reconcile yourself to this. Therefore, when you set goals or seek pleasures to keep yourself going, make sure they are small. For example, instead of trying to plan a weeks’ vacation, start by making plans for a one night out at the movies. Instead of trying to feel immense joy, just try to allow yourself to appreciate a sunset without having pain. The enjoyment of these things initially will not be what you expect, but it will increase as you cope better with your loss. Be patient. Over time you gradually can work on bigger goals and larger pleasures. Take it slowly, one day at a time, but take it. You need to have some goals and pleasure in your life in order to keep you going, pull you forward, give your life a little meaning, and provide you with some purposed, direction, and focus.
Lastly, evaluate your progress in small bits and pieces. Twenty minutes without pain maybe quite an improvement. Don’t expect immediate or dramatic results. Be realistic. It may be hard to see any progress on a day-to-day basis, so you may have t reconcile yourself to evaluating it over a longer period of time (for example, “I’m better than fall than I was in the spring.”)
At the appropriate time, find rewarding new things to do and people, objects, activities, beliefs or causes to invest in. If you have appropriately withdrawn your emotional energy from your deceased loved one, there will be energy to reinvest in other people, activities, objects, beliefs, and causes-anyone or anything that can gratify your needs. This is difficult, but necessary after any major loss. It can be particularly problematic if you have been involved with caring for a loved one with a long-term illness prior to death. In this case, much of your time had been focused around the care of the dying loved one, and now this time may weight all too heavily on your hands.
Additionally, you will need to find the support you require to adapt to your loss and to form new relationships with others. It may come through family, friends, job, or self-help or other organized helping groups. If you choose new tasks to accomplish and new causes to invest in, you may find support from people in social, educational, religious, or political groups.
Identify the gain that has come from your loss. In every loss there is a gain. This is not to dismiss the intensity of your grief, not to minimize its tragedy. However, whenever a loss takes place, there is a gain that comes about. For example, although a husband may lose his wife, the situation may force him to spend more time with his children. In this case, the “gain” that has occurred is that the husband may now be more closely involved with his children that he was previously. This does not mean that he is glad that the loss occurred or that he would have wished for his wife’s death. The point is that at times it is helpful for you to recognize gains and to capitalize on them in your recovery process. They may help you cope with the pain of your loss by putting it into the perspective of the gains and losses that continually ebb and flow through life, and may give it some positive meaning.
Obviously all of these suggestions to promote appropriate grief resolution hold true only within certain limits. Grief that is absent, delayed, excessive, distorted, or too prolonged will require more in-depth treatment.
If after reading the preceding section you have further questions or believe you need assistance please call the Whale Helpline 1-877-44-WHALE