IS GRIEF WORK?
Loss is a part of life. There are some perfectly normal reactions to loss
that our culture suppresses and denies because we don’t understand. There is grieving
connected with loss. If the loss is great, the grief is great. Because most people know so
little of the nature of grief because of our cultural and personal conspiracy of silence and
denial, they become panicky when it strikes and it becomes a greater problem. Grief is in
every part of our lives. If we include the little grieves along with the large grieves then
grief is as natural a part of life as joy or breathing and it is inevitable. It is experienced in
a thousand different ways – from a husband phoning home the last minute before guests
are arriving for a dinner and says he’ll be late; this throws the wife into a mild form of
grief. Take the person who has worked happily at a job under a certain boss for five
years. The boss is promoted and his new boss is overbearing. This man experiences
grief. How a person handles these little grieves will in some measure tell how he/she will
probably handle larger grieves when they come. We think grief is related to death only
but the same process is at work in many other kinds of losses in life.
One of the most common grief situations arise out of our mobile culture. Families
move every few years. Loss of familiarity within the home, friends, neighborhoods and
associates all are factors in the loss of predictability in our lives. And we grieve.
Divorce is a common happening in our culture. There is grief in the hearts of those who
now have lost someone who once was dear to him/her. It is a form of living death to
have a spouse who you once loved turn his/her back to you. And the grieving can be
profound. There are many variations on this theme – all of which involve deep grieving.
Enforced retirement in this society is a source of grieving. We generally define
ourselves by what we do in our work. A man has lost his role, his productivity, his
associates and his contribution to society, for instance. Unless he has planned ahead in
his life such as another job, hobbies, etc. he will grieve less than if he sees no other
options. Grief may center around children of the family such as the empty nest syndrome
or child lost through marriage or a grown child who has moved away. The empty spaces
in our lives are difficult to deal with. We can lose health, eyesight, hearing, teeth, use of
limbs and some other part of the body inside or out. We can lose money, job, home,
investments. Some people grieve greatly for the death of a beloved pet. Grief is a natural
part of human experience. We must learn to live with it. Whatever has brought about
great change and loss, it takes a lot of work, hard work to deal with the loss and bring
some predictability into our lives again…
There is a way to find hope again. The struggle to live with reality is our greatest
task. This is grief work. Future articles will teach you more about the work of grief.
Believe it not, you can come out of your loss a stronger more meaningful person.
There is the road the majority of human beings travel in order to start living again
after the death of a loved one. Ever person must do his/her grief work. It is hard work,
and it cant’ be avoided without paying a price. Not every person will necessarily have to
go through all of these tasks of grieving or necessarily in this order. For the purpose of
description, tasks seem to be the most usual way a person does his/her grief work. Many
times s/he is doing three or four of these tasks at the same time and very seldom does the
person move neatly from one task to the next.
The First Task to Work Through is Shock. When a pain is over-whelming, a person is
temporarily anesthetized. This helps the person facing grim reality all at once. The person
acts somewhat mechanically. During this period it is good for the bereaved person to
keep fairly busy. We can help a bereaved person by being near and available, but
normally do not takeaway from bereaved the therapeutic value of doing something for
The Second Task is to Express Emotion. Emotional release comes at about the time it
beings to dawn upon us how dreadful this loss is. Usually without warning there wells up
within us an uncontrollable urge to express our grief. God has given us tear glands and
we are supposed to use them. Men particularly think it’s a sign of weakness to cry.
The Third Task: Learn to Deal with Depression and Loneliness. It is true that no two
people grieve exactly alike. But the awful experience of being utterly depressed and
isolated is a universal phenomenon. When a person finds him/herself in the depths of
despair it is helpful to remind him/her that this is part of healthy grief. If depression goes
on too long we should help the griever seek competent professional help.
The Fourth Task: Work Through the Physical symptoms of Distress s/he Experiences.
This may come and go in waves. Felling tightness in the throat, shortness of breath, a
need for sighing, empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power, etc. is part of
the physical symptoms. Medical doctors sometimes identify patients who they determine
the cause is from unresolved grief.
The Fifth Task: Work Through Panic. The person loses his/her ability to concentrate
because his/her loss is all consuming. It hinders him/her in everything s/he tries to do.
The last thing s/he wants to do is to try something new. At times they worry about their
mental health. Inability to concentrate in time of grief is very natural. Try to calm
him/herself and don’t expect too much for a while. Grief is hard work.
The Sixth Task: Conquer Feelings of Guilt About the Loss. At times, the griever plays a
mind game “If I only had…” over and over again. The reason they do this is because
they want to somehow change the ending. Guilt is non-productive because it becomes all
out of proportion of our real involvement.
The Seventh Task: Working Through Feelings of Hostility and Resentment. When
something is taken from a person he goes through a time when he is critical of everything
and everyone who was related to the loss. His/her anger may be focused on the doctor or
the nurse, God or even towards the deceased for leaving. We can answer every question
except the “why” question.
The Eighth Task: Overcoming the Inability to Return to Our Usual Activities. This is
the time to be good to ourselves. Our culture does not encourage our expressions of loss
over a long time. We are forced to carry the grief within ourselves. There is a conspiracy
of silence against loss and grief. There is an expectation from others for us to “let’s get
back to business as usual.” Don’t hurry yourself. You will know when you are able to
regain your usual activities.
The Ninth Task: Bring Hope Through Again. Occasionally the griever has a good
experience again. Clouds begin to break. Grief may last for weeks to many months. No
two people are the same, no two situations are the same. The great Majority of people
need to express emotions, need warm affection and encouragement of others. From this
we learn that shutting ourselves away is unrealistic. We begin to find other experiences
in life that can be meaningful again.
The Tenth Task: The Final Task Goes On for As Long As We Live – The Struggle to
Live With Reality. Shock, emotional reaction, depression and loneliness, physical
symptoms of distress, panic, guilt, hostility and resentment, the inability to return to the
usual activities and gradually, some hope again. These are the tasks assigned to the
bereaved. This is their grief work.
We never become our old self again, contrary to the way people use that
expression. When we go through any significant experience of losses we come out of it a
different person. Depending on how well we do our grief work, we can come out a
stronger more meaningful person.
-Submitted by Phyllis M. Hansen, MSW, Grief Counselor