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The Grieving Process

Grief may be experienced in response to physical losses, such as death, or in response to symbolic or social losses such as divorce or loss of a job. The grief experience can be affected by one’s history and support system. Taking care of yourself and accessing the support of friends and family can help you cope with your grief experience.

There is no right way to grieve. It is an individual process and a natural part of life. Life won’t be the same after a loss, but experiencing your grief will allow you to adjust to life after loss.

Grief lasts as long as it takes to adjust to the changes in your life after your loss. It can be for months, or even years. Grief has no timetable; thoughts, emotions, behaviors and other responses may come and go. Counseling and support services may be helpful to a person with normal grief reactions. These services can be a guide through some of the challenges of grieving as one adjusts to loss.

Grief Counseling and Support

The goals of grief counseling include:

  • Understanding the natural process of grief
  • Accepting and adjust to the reality of the death
  • Receiving affirmation for the “normalcy” of feelings
  • Providing information about the grief process and common grief responses
  • Understanding common obstacles and how to deal with them
  • Helping the bereaved identify and utilize effective coping strategies

Grief Therapy

Grief therapy is sometimes indicated when individuals have more complicated grief reactions. The goal of grief therapy is to identify and resolve the conflicts of separation that interfere with the ability to mourn the loss. It is indicated when any of the previously described complicated grief symptoms are evident.

Complications in grief may occur if grief from previous losses resurfaces. Grief therapy addresses what is interfering with the grief process, identifies unfinished business with the deceased and other losses that result from the death.

Bereavement Groups

Bereavement groups can help you recognize your feelings and put them in perspective. They can also help alleviate the feeling that you are alone. The experience of sharing with others who are in a similar situation can be comforting and reassuring. Sometimes, new friendships grow through these groups – even a whole new social network that you did not have before.

Many people discover that there is hope after death. Death takes away, but grief can give back. It is possible to recover from grief with new strengths and a new direction. By acting on our grief, we may eventually find peace and purpose.

Supporting Friends or Family Who Are Grieving

Here are a few tips and reminders when someone close to you is grieving:

  • When people are grieving, know that all emotions are often heightened.
  • Acknowledge all feelings. Their grief reactions are natural and necessary. Do not pass judgment on how “well” they are or are not coping.
  • Understand and accept cultural and religious perspectives about illness and death that may be different from your own. For example, if a family has decided to remove a loved one from life support, do not second guess this decision, try to be supportive.
  • Be specific in your willingness to help. Offer assistance with chores such as childcare or meals. For example, suggest “I’ll bring dinner on Thursday, how many people will be there?”
  • Identify friends who might be willing to help with specific tasks on a regular basis, such as picking up the kids from school or refilling prescriptions.
  • Acknowledge that life won’t “feel the same” and the person may not be “back to normal.” Help the person to renew interest in past activities and hobbies, when they are ready, or discover new areas of interest. Offer suggestions such as, “Let’s go to the museum on Saturday to see the new exhibit,” but be accepting if your offer is declined.
  • Know and accept that how your friend or family member copes with their loss may be very different from how you would cope, even in the same situation.

There is no right way to grieve and mourn. Be very careful not to impose your expectations on someone else, no matter how much you think it might “help.”

Supporting a Grieving Caregiver

To support a caregiver who is grieving, ask how you can best help, and listen for what they seem to need. Express your concern for how the illness is affecting them personally. Even if you have been a caregiver yourself, don’t say you know what they are going through. Empathize, by saying, “I am so very sorry,” but don’t say you understand.

When caregiving ends it is normal to feel both grieved and relieved, but caregivers often feel guilty about any feelings of relief they may experience. Remind them that these feelings are normal and common. Caring for a loved one can be exhausting work, but when caregiving ends, time often seems endless. Offer to help grieving caregivers fill their day with meaningful activities. Help them get back into life at a pace that is acceptable to them. Caregivers and former caregivers often haven’t had enough sleep, nor have they eaten well, so encourage a grieving caregiver to obtain adequate rest and nutrition.

Additional information about the grieving process may be found on the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s Caring Connections website.