Some indicators of difficulty in the early days…
- Keeping busy all the time and no time for grief. “just get on with life”.
- Can’t cry or won’t allow yourself to cry.
- Continuing shock that prevents necessary functioning
- Use of alcohol or drugs for coping
Some indicators of difficulty later on…
- Being overwhelmed by emotions
- Stuck with a certain aspect of what happened.
- Going round and round without being able to resolve the issue.
- Feeling abandoned by usual support systems
- Inability to return to most normal routines
- Flashback images of the death.
The Four Tasks Of Grief
George Engel, a psychiatrist, relates grief to a physiological trauma. He maintains that the loss of a loved one is as traumatic to the psyche as a severe disease is to the physical body. Both represent a departure from the otherwise normal wellbeing and functioning of the individual and both require a period of healing.
According to Worden (1982) in his book “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy” there are four tasks required in the mourning process, for complete healing or bereavement to occur. While adherence to the order of the tasks is not required, he believes it is essential that all four tasks be completed.
To Accept the Reality of the Loss
This requires the bereaved person to face his/her loss full on, with the realization that it is impossible to be reunited with his/her loved one at least in this lifetime. To fully accomplish this task means there is no denial about the irreversibility of this loss, although at times the persons mind may play tricks (seeing the deceased in a crowd).
It is helpful for the grieving person to talk about the death.
To Experience the Pain and the Grief
The pain of grief is both physical and emotional and the grieving person needs to be supported in the expression of their pain. Experiencing the pain involves identifying and acknowledging feelings and being honest about them. Grievers need lots of information to realize they are not crazy and they will make it.
It’s important for family and friends to maintain their support to the grieving person.
To Adjust to an Environment in which the Deceased is Missing
Loneliness is a great hurdle to overcome when someone close to you has died or some other major loss has occurred. Even those surrounded by people feel it; they feel disconnected, are not sure how they fit or what they want now.
It helps to have support in making connections to help talk about emotions, realize you have choices, responsibilities and roles.
To Withdraw Emotional Energy and Reinvest it in other Relationships
Grief is a process of gradual adaptation to separation and change. It may be minor or the most painful experience of someone’s life, but whichever the case it must be worked through. Until the person has reached some perspective about the loss, or let go, or said good bye, it is not possible to fully give their attention or commitment to living in a healthy way.
It helps to develop new and old talents, or interests and develop an awareness of personal abilities, strength and self – confidence.
Grief is ‘successful’ when…
- It moves forward towards integration of the loss/death into the bereaved person’s life narrative while maintaining security of their past relationship with the person who died.
- People reconstruct rather than relinquish the bond
- New life goals are defined
What does integration mean?
- Acknowledging the reality of the death
- Maintaining access to bittersweet emotions, memories
- Revising one’s memory of the person who died
- Creating a new and evolving life narrative or story that incorporates the person who died and their death
“One day you wake up and realize you must have survived it because you are still here, alive and breathing. But you don’t remember the infinitely small steps and decisions you took to get there. Your only awareness is that you have shed miles of tears on what seems to be an endless road of sorrow. One day… one glorious day, you wake up and feel your skin tingle again and you forget for an instant that your heart is broken ….and it is a beginning.”
Susan Borrowman, Kingston Ontario