Gary Collins defines grief as, “a normal response to the loss of any significant person, object, or opportunity. It is an experience of deprivation, and anxiety that can show itself in one’s behavior, emotions, thinking, physiology, interpersonal relationships, and spirituality.”
We will often resist grief in our lives because we recognize that the journey with and through it will not be an easy one. It is true that grief can be at times disorienting, messy, and overwhelming. However, grief is not a problem it is a process. Psychologist Robert Neimeyer states, “Grieving is a process of reconstructing a world of meaning that has been challenged by loss.”
Following is a very brief look at the journey of grief.
Types of Grief
Normal Grief: This type should not be thought of as easy. Rather, it is the process of moving toward accepting the loss as symptoms steadily dissipate, allowing the person to gradually reengage in daily activities.
Anticipatory Grief: Begins prior to the actual loss. This is most commonly found when a person is dying from a long-term illness, and the bereaved begin their grief process the moment the impending loss sinks in. Anticipatory grief can be difficult for people because they may feel guilty for feeling such strong emotions of loss prior to their loved one dying.
Chronic Grief: A strong reaction of grief in which symptoms do not dissipate over time.
Delayed Grief: Occurs when a person does not begin to feel the symptoms of grief until long after the loss. In many cases, the person consciously or subconsciously avoids the reality of the loss. Avoidance and shock can both play a role.
Inhibited Grief: Happens when people keep their grief symptoms to themselves. The feelings are kept inside until they manifest in the body, often with somatic complaints.
While we commonly use the stages of grief, (denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance), to understand the journey more recently the counselling field has discovered that looking at the grieving process through the lens of the tasks of grief is more helpful. These tasks provide the griever with markers as to whether or not they are engaging or avoiding their grief and aids the counsellor is determining if someone is dealing with more complicated grief.
While each one’s journey with grief is unique the general tasks of include:
Acceptance of the reality of the loss
- Say dead, died
- Recognizing the absence of the deceased
- Importance of ritual, funeral etc.
- Triage belongings
- Talk about the loved one, memories, and relationship
Experiencing the pain of the loss
- Enter process (cognitive and emotional) domain honestly
- Journal/letter writing
- Allow emotions to be triggered – put self in uncomfortable situations (review pictures, belongings, continue sharing stories, visit special places and people)
Adjusting to a new environment without loved one
- Recognize new identify that will begin without deceased
- Cultivate new interests and activities
- Connect with relationships that are now available
Reinvesting in the new reality
- Embrace new normal
- Reconstruction of narrative going forward
- Seek ways to integrate loved one into the present (e.g. connect with a cause= Cancer society etc..); loved one still a part of the narrative
- Live Fully
Facing grief head on can be intimidating and scary, however, despite the pain the compass on this journey points to healing and a new normal. This does not mean that the loss will not hurt at times in the future and strong feelings will never be triggered. The goal is never to “get over” it because as those of us who have lost know, that is an impossible task. Rather, as we engage with grief we carry loss in different ways. Most importantly making space for grief and being ok with not being ok are key to accepting and engaging in this very important journey.
For more a thorough look at grief and for helpful resources see:
A Grief Observed -C.S. Lewis
Lament for a Son – N. Wolterstorff
Stunned by Grief – Judy Brizendine
Experiencing Grief – H. Norman Wright
Helping Those in Grief – H. Norman Wright
The Grief Recovery Handbook– James & Friedman