Resolving your Grief
There are three sets of processes that must be completed successfully if you are ever able to “resolve” your grief over the death of a loved one. Note that the word “resolve” is in quotation marks. Although that will be dropped later, they are used here to help you see that in most cases the term is a relative one. If the person you lost was truly significant to you, grief is not usually resolved in the sense of being finished and completed, settled forever. Certain aspects of the loss will be with you until you die, and there will be times when you experience brief upsurges of grief again. Rather, the term indicates that the process of grief has been addressed and completed as much as possible at a given point, and the loss has been integrated appropriately into the rest of your life.
The ultimate purpose of grief and mourning as to help you recognize that your loved one has gone and ultimately to adapt to the reality of that loss and live healthily in the new world without the deceased. To achieve this purpose successfully, you must complete three sets of processes:
1. Acknowledge and understand the loss.
2. Experience the pain and react to the separation.
3. Move adaptively into the new life without forgetting the old.
Acknowledging and understanding the Loss
In order for grief to begin there must be recognition of loss. If you deny that the death occurred, or if you refuse to believe that it is permanent and irreversible and continue to expect that the deceased will return to life, then you do not have to grieve the death; there is no permanent loss in your eyes, only a separation.
Of course, you do not want this reality to be true. You want it to be a horrible mistake. Yet, until you recognize in your mind that the person is dead, you have no reason to start grieving. This is why confirmation of the death is so important, and why we spend so much time, money and effort trying to recover bodies after airplane crashes, boating accidents, earthquakes, and so forth. Human beings frequently require evidence of the death before they can or will start to grieve it.
In addition to an acknowledgment that the death has occurred, you will need to come to an understanding of how it happened. You will have to develop an explanation of the death that makes some sense to you intellectually and that answers whatever questions you have about it. This does not mean that you like the cause of death, or that you can fit this death into your system of meaning or your philosophy of life. It only means that you understand the reasons for the events which led to the death.
Those who are unable to fit a loved one’s death into a context or some sort of rationale have trouble with their grief. They tend to become confused and anxious in their general lives, wondering about what happened to their loved one and what potentially could happen to them. Without the world making sense to them, including the death of the person they loved, it is difficult to recover from such a major loss. This is why, for example, parents whose babies die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome frequently have such a difficult time when no cause of death is found.
Experiencing the Pain and reacting to the Separation
Put very simply, there is no way around it. There is no way around the pain that you naturally feel when someone you love dies. You can try to go over it, under it, or around it. For example, you can try to delay it, or you can try to deny it. You can avoid thinking about the loss, or you can cut yourself off from your feelings when you do think about it. You can try to minimize the loss, or you can over focus on other family members’ grief and not pay attention to your own. You can say that grief is unnecessary because you will be reunited with your loved one in an afterlife, or you can keep yourself so busy that you never perceive the separation or feel the grief. All of these things will cost you. True, they may work in some fashion for a period of time. Yet, if you want to resolve your grief, if you want to leave the pain behind, if you want to be healthy and symptom-free, if you someday want to have as fulfilled a life as possible, sooner or later you must go through the pain. Going through it is what will help you heal.
You cannot be blamed for wanting to avoid the pain of grief. Unless you are a masochist, no one would ask for the type of pain that comes after the loss of someone loved. However, despite its being natural to want to avoid the pain, to do so will only bring more pain in the future. You have to yield to it in order to move through it.
Notwithstanding this, at times you will need to take “breaks” in your grief, times when you need to get some distance from the pain in order to replenish yourself so you can cope with it more next time. Continued, unremitting, acute pain will debilitate anyone. We all need some relief from the intense pain of grief. Consequently, there will be times when you find that you are directing your attention away from your grief. Backing off from your pain is normal and healthy. It does not mean you are not grieving properly. It merely means that you need to do something besides grieve, oftentimes something that will give you a sense of control and accomplishment, such as cleaning the house or going to a movie. In both cases, you are doing something to take your mind off your pain and give it a rest from the necessary review process of grief. These diversions give you a way to channel your restless energy.
Besides experiencing the pain, you will also have to deal with separation from the person you loved. You must become accustomed to the absence of an integral part of your life. You will have to learn to be in the world without someone who was very important to you. More importantly, you will have to learn not to need from this person all the different interactions, validations, reinforcements etc. that you derived form him/her. This type of reacting is not easy, and is not something one is eager to do. But in healthy grief, the reality of the separation will prompt readjusting to the new world without the loved one in and it, and changing emotional attachment and investment in him to reflect that fact that he is dead.
Readjustment takes a lot of practice and patience. It is achieved painfully, step by step. Many roles that the deceased played become apparent over time, and readjustment means that the remaining family members must broaden their skills and roles.
Moving adaptively into the new life without forgetting the old
Losing a loved one does not mean cutting off all connections with him. There are many healthy ways in which you can hold on to the loved one. You must have a realistic image of him, both the positive and the negative. In the beginning it is quite normal to remember only the positive. As time goes on, however, it is necessary to be realistic. To maintain an unrealistic image requires a lot of mental and emotional energy. Memories of the deceased, rituals to remember him, acting on values and concerns he taught or gave while alive, and talking occasionally about him, are all ways in which the relationship with the deceased is not forgotten.
While relating to the deceased loved one can give you a link to the past, it should not prevent you from growth in the present. Interactions with a loved one help define, in some way, our sense of self and reality. Now that this has to be adjusted, a somewhat new identity must be formed. The new world without the deceased demands new ways of being, thinking and feeling. Certain hopes, expectations and experiences must be given up. New roles, skills, behaviours and relationships must be acquired. You will learn new aspects of yourself, lose old ones or modify the ones you retain. Whatever you do, as your new self comes into being, it will affect your sense of identity. A gradual formation of a new identity is a sign of resolving of grief and the acceptance of the loss.
It is necessary to go through the above processes if you want to resolve your grief in a healthy manner. Each family is unique and can think of various ways in which they can practically resolve their grief. Grief that is unresolved only becomes more painful, and can result in traumatic consequences.
Source: Grieving: How to go on living when someone you love dies, Therese A. Rando.