by Glynis Sherwood MEd
What Does Grief Recovery Mean Exactly?
There’s a saying in grief recovery that: ‘It’s not that the boulder gets smaller, but that our shoulders get stronger’. To me what this points to is that grief can’t be ‘cured’. For in order to grief to be cured the loss would have to be erased, which is not possible. Grief is a response to the psychological ‘injury’ of loss. The pain of the injury can be healed, but leaves a scar. But if we grieve in a healthy fashion, our loss can lead to a strengthening of character and personal growth. This is what is meant by the transformational quality of grief. In order to heal from the pain of grief, we need to complete the grief process. This completion has its own time lines, depending on the severity and meaning of the loss, and often occurring over a lifetime, as we come to terms with our losses. Grief recovery is not always linear, but appears to require four main sequential tasks:
What are the Tasks of Grief Recovery?
1/ Accepting the reality of the loss
This task involves admitting the finality of the loss to ourselves. Usually this is a gradual process of returning over and over again to the loss, as we struggle to acknowledge that someone or something that we love and has deep meaning for us has been removed from our lives. In the early stages, grieving people often say to me that they can’t believe the loss has happened. In my role as counsellor, I support grievers come to terms with the permanence of their loss as it becomes more and more real to them over time.
2/ Working through the pain and complexity of grief
The job of this task is to deal with the emotional impact of loss, and to begin to sort through what the loss means to individual grievers. It is at this point in the grief process that I tend to have people contact me for counselling. Often what has happened is that the emotional anesthetic of shock has worn off, and grievers start to experience emotions that can feel very frightening, but are perfectly normal. It is important to understand that we may have wide variety of emotions, sometimes conflicting, about the loss and how it impacts our belief systems. It’s not unusual to feel sad, angry, loving, lonely, empty, lost or hopeful – possibly all at the same time. This particular step requires coming to terms with the varied and mixed emotions attached to the loss, and its impact on our values or belief systems.
3/ Adjusting to an environment in which the important person, place, activity, relationship, etc. is missing
This task is very much about identifying and mobilizing our strengths as we adapt to our ‘new’ lives in the face of the permanence of the loss. This can be a good time to start focusing on completing any unfinished business with whomever or whatever has been lost. For example, writing a letter where loose ends are wrapped up. It helps to identify what we have going for us in the here and now, and what we have to look forward to. Often by the time grievers reach this step, some life energy has been recovered from the grieving process that can help us re-engage with the world in a way that makes us feel like we are starting to live more in the present and are beginning to move forward again.
4/ Moving away from grief and longing for what is lost, and finding a place for it in our memories as we move on with life
During this task stage grievers begin to establish some psychological distance from the loss. By this time you may notice that you are much more capable of living in the present, and less inclined to find yourself preoccupied with your past losses. It can be useful to find ways to keep positive memories alive and create additional rituals of completion. It also helps to identify anything we may have learned from our loss that feels beneficial, and to determine how we can incorporate the benefits of that change into the fabric of our lives.
Grief recovery requires active, open and direct engagement in dealing with loss – as our psychological resources will allow us. If you find yourself ‘stuck’ in any of these tasks of grief, and don’t know how to move forward, it can be helpful to work with a counsellor who has experience assisting grievers to get through complicated grief.
Need help dealing with loss and grief? Visit my Grief & Loss Counselling web page
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Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Registered Clinical Counsellor, specializes in helping people recover from all kinds of Loss, Grief and Stuck Grief – aka ‘the pain that won’t go away. I look forward to hearing from you and helping you achieve the peace of mind you want and deserve.