As excruciating as mourning the death of a loved one can be, it’s a shared reality that we all face at some point in our lives.
If done in a healthy way, mourning can allow the feeling of loss to be adapted into feelings of acceptance. In order for mourning to be adaptive, and for feelings of grief to be resolved, there are 3 steps that need to occur:
1) Recognizing and understanding the loss:
The first step in resolving grief involves acknowledging the loss rather than avoiding or denying it. This step entails moving out of the natural state of shock which may be initially felt. It also involves coming up with an explanation for what happened. This explanation can be anything from “the person is in a better place” to “it was his time”. As long as it makes sense to you, it’s valid. This allows one to understand and begin to come to terms with the loss.
2) Confronting the pain head on:
The next and most commonly dreaded step is to feel through the loss. Avoiding or minimizing the pain that comes with any kind of loss only keeps the pain going. Delaying pain for too long can be costly; it can help to think of a wound that needs immediate medical attention, but instead gets a band-aid solution. By the time the medical attention comes, the wound is in a condition that is even harder to heal. Another example, is a parking ticket that gets paid late and ends up costing more due to the interest that’s accumulated. At no point can you escape the fee or pain, making it better to address it sooner rather than later. It’s common to need breaks from experiencing the pain. Take time to recharge and allow for positive diversions.
3) Integrating old feelings with a new mindset:
The third and final step is to incorporate the past with the present. This involves finding new ways to relate to the world and your loved one. It also involves completing unfinished business with the deceased. It can be helpful to find new ways to invest your time and energy by meeting new people, and doing things that help take the focus off what’s been lost. Therapy can be extraordinary helpful during this stage. It can facilitate healing by providing a space for you to discuss the loss and review your relationship in a safe and supported way. By reviewing all aspects of your relationship you can reflect on what you learnt from the relationship and seal up loose ties. Doing so should lessen strong emotions of grief. It can also support you to relate to your loved one in a way that appropriately reflects your new reality.
In going through all three steps it’s possible to have an enriched life without erasing your past. As psychologist Therese A. Rando notes “[a]nd in the end, this moving forward with that scar is the very best that we could hope for”. In other words, we can carry forward what we learnt and the love that we experienced while our loved one was alive. In fact, it’s possible to keep our loved one alive by integrating him into our present and future. That doesn’t mean that you won’t miss them, or experience grief reactions ever again, but that you will no longer be consumed by it, and can live with the loss in a healthy way.
Navigating grief, and learning to move on is no easy task.
If you are struggling to integrate the loss of a loved one in a healthy way, contact me to learn about how therapy can support you with moving forward.