Considering Grief and Loss (Part 2 of 2)
By Rick McGregor, MA, LMHC
When someone close to us dies, grief grabs us by the throat and shatters our world into a million pieces. Some days it numbs us to the bone, while other days it pierces our hearts and makes us want to scream. In my previous article I mentioned grief and loss is a normal and natural part of life, but knowing so doesn’t remove the shock, pain, sadness or depression that comes. In this article I continue this discussion by looking at obstacles that can hurt the process of healing and provide a framework for grieving by considering William Worden’s Four Tasks of Healing.
Obstacles to Healing
Grief many times is a misunderstood and neglected process. Because responding to grief is often awkward, uncomfortable, even frightening, you may try and avoid dealing with grief. This can make the experience more lonely and unhappy than it might be otherwise. In addition, society promotes many misconceptions about grief that actually hinder the recovery and growth that are wanted following loss. At a time of loss those around you often believe it is necessary to change how you feel and may do so by making statements such as, “You must be strong,” “You must get on with your life,” or “It is good he didn’t have to suffer.” Such clichés may help the one who struggles for the right words, but are rarely helpful to the one grieving. Society can also promote the misconception that the appropriate place to show emotions is at the funeral, and recovery should take place shortly after. When you are grieving you need to avoid others ways of minimizing your personal grief, you need to be encouraged to recover in your own way.
The Four Tasks of Grief and Mourning
I have worked with clients who were grieving the death of a loved one. Often, these clients wonder, “When will I be over this pain?” Recognizing that grieving is a challenging experience; the feelings that accompany grief are an essential part of the process. The grieving process and the emotions that accompany help us come to terms with the loss and learn to integrate the meaning of the loss into our lives.
William Worden (1991) created Four Tasks of Grieving in order to help provide a framework for the grieving process. When someone you love dies, you do have your grief work cut out for you. And make no mistake the grieving process is one of the hardest jobs you will ever tackle. Grief will not go away on its own. You can try and ignore it, but grief is a stubborn companion. In the end, you must complete the four tasks that follow to complete the normal grieving process and heal a broken heart.
Accept the Reality of the Loss
When your loved one dies the news of the death, even if the death is expected, may be shock and disbelief. The first task of grieving is to face the reality that the loved one is gone and will not return. As difficult as it may be, denying the facts of the loss, the meaning of the loss, or the reversibility of the loss serves to prolong the grieving process. Rituals such as a funeral are positive means to help you come to terms with the reality of your loss.
Work through the Pain and Loss
Once you allow yourself to accept the irreversibility of the loss, you may experience intense waves of emotions. From a variety of life experiences, I am too familiar with the sadness, anger, numbness, hurt, emptiness, depression, loneliness, and anxiety that accompany loss. It can be tempting to avoid these feelings, but allowing time and space to feel emotions will be helpful. Ask for the support of friends. Tell them what you need from them, because people often misunderstand what you are going through. Please understand that the memory of your loved one will continue, but the pain will decrease over time and finally disappear.
Adjust to an Environment in which the Deceased is missing
This means different things to different people, depending on what the relationship was. Gradually, you will start to resume your normal routine after the loss. It is possible you will fill some guilt, believing somehow you are dishonoring the deceased by engaging in activities. If the deceased played a marginal role in your lives you may find this easy; but if the person was had a very close role in your everyday life you may feel you lost a part of yourself and this step will be more difficult. This adjustment usually takes place over time as you recognize the implications of the loss and come to terms with all the gaps that the death has created.
Emotionally Relocate the Deceased and Move on with Life
I have heard clients refer to this task as the “new normal.” I like this thought because it acknowledges that life will never be the same since the loss, but affirms that a new positive life is possible. This does not necessarily mean finding a new spouse, surrogate mother, etc. It does mean reentering life without the loved one. You must learn to rebuild personal ways of satisfying your social, emotional and practical needs by developing new or different activities and relationships. This does not mean you love him or her any less, or that you have dishonored the memory of the deceased. It simply recognizes there are other people and things to be loved and you are capable of loving.
I have been honored over the years to walk through the grieving process with hundreds of individuals and families. Of all the challenges I have witnessed in people’s lives coping with grief is definitely one of the hardest. Getting Help involves being open and vulnerable with a counselor, pastor, friend or family member who understands and is willing to walk with you through the challenges of grief and loss.
Worden, J.W. (1991). Grief counseling and grief therapy: a handbook for the mental health practitioner, (2nd ed.). London: Springer.