At some point, we each loose someone we are especially close to. And grief, grieving, accomopanies that loss. Whether the loved one is a spouse, a parent, child, dear friend, or even a beloved companion animal, grieving is a normal part of our lives. And that grief can be very painful.
While it may be tempting to deny grief in order to avoid or deny pain, it’s healthier to accept pain and loss, and to work through the grieving process in an intentional way.
In his book, “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, Second Edition” J. William Worden, PhD, describes what he calls “The Four Tasks of Mourning.” These tasks can be the means by which a healthy person works through the pain of grieving for a loved one, and moves into the next phase of life.
Grief counselors and therapists agree that there are several steps we need to experience in order to achieve full healing and “health” after a loss. Here are 5.
Learn to accept that your loss is real.
For many people who are grieving a loss, the first impulse is denial. Grieving denial can range from downplaying the loss, as if it’s not important, to having the delusion that the person or pet is still alive.
It’s often easier for people who are grieving to have an intellectual understanding of the death (the person or pet is physically gone) than an emotional understanding (the loved one is not coming back). So the first task for the grieving person is accepting that the loved one is really gone.
Make it OK to feel the pain.
The pain of grieving can be both emotional and physical, and unfortunately there’s no way to avoid it. Denying the pain of grieving can lead to physical symptoms and can also prolong the grieving process.
Some people try to avoid grieving pain by being busy or traveling; others try to minimize grieving their loss by idealizing the loved one or refusing to allow negative thoughts about the loved one enter their minds. Some grieving people use drugs or alcohol to deaden the pain.
Feeling the pain of grieving is difficult, but it’s an important step toward healing.
Adjust to living without the deceased.
When a loved one dies, we also lose the part of our lifestyle that included the deceased. So while we are grieving for the loved one, we are also grieving for the parts of our life that will never be the same. Sometimes it can take a few months following the death for this realization to sink in.
For example, if a man’s wife dies, he misses her physically and emotionally, but he may also have lost a dear friend, sexual partner, golfing buddy, and fellow grandparent. Part of his grieving will naturally include missing the parts of his life that have changed because of her death.
When a beloved pet dies, we miss the companionship and the love, but we can also miss having a special friend to come home to, walks in the park, playtime, riding in the car, or other activities we shared.
Grieving the loss of shared activities can feel as painful as grieving for the person or pet. So it’s a natural tendency for some people to feel that their lives are more empty following a loss. This is a normal feeling for a time, but part of the grieving and healing process includes acceptance, and shifting our focus to include other people and activities.
This opens the door to finding new opportunities for love and companionship.
Find a safe place in your heart for your loved one, and allow yourself to move on.
This task can be especially hard for a grieving person because it can feel at first that you’re being disloyal when you start to think about enjoying a life that doesn’t include the deceased.
It’s likely that memories of the loved one will stay with you throughout your life, and sometimes, even years after the death, you may feel a stab of pain when you think about the beloved person or pet that was so important to you.
When this happens, it’s important to remind yourself that it’s a normal part of the grieving and healing process. Allow yourself to have these feelings.
Learning to cherish a memory without letting it control you is a very important step in the grieving process. By finding a special safe “place” for that person, you can heal from grieving and move back into your life. You begin to find joy in new experiences, and you can take comfort in the knowledge that you keep your cherished memories with you, wherever you go.
The “place” where you decide to keep your memories is up to you. You can visualize tucking your loved one into a space in your heart, or you can keep a box of cherished photos or momentos. Perhaps you’d like to find a special tree or nature setting that you can revisit. Give some thought to where you’d like to hold memories of your loved one.
The important thing is learning how to cherish a memory without getting stuck there.
And finally, what do you do with the love that you feel?
For many people, the hardest part of losing a loved one and grieving that loss is figuring out what to do with all the love they feel for the person or pet who is gone.
Remind yourself that you don’t have to stop loving someone just because he or she is no longer with you. When a memory pops up, send a loving thought and know that you are loved in return. You may find comfort in this, and the strength to continue on in your journey.