The Process of Grieving

Grieving is a personal and very individual experience. How you grieve depends on a number of factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time and healing is also gradual and can not be forced or hurried. There is no “normal” timespan for grieving – some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

The experience of recovering from loss has often been considered as having a number of stages or phases along the way. It can be helpful to understand that your experience has been mirrored by others and also comforting that the sorrow of loss, so intensely felt at the beginning alleviates along the way as you move through healing. William Worden’s model suggests that there are Four Tasks of Mourning:

1.To accept the reality of the loss.

When someone close to us has died, it is not uncommon to experience a sense of unreality as we struggle to process the enormity of what has happened and the finality of their absence. While on a rational level we know they are no longer here, part of us, including our emotional selves, finds it difficult to accept it. Initially we can wake in the morning shocked as we remember someone close to us has gone or continually expecting them to walk through the door or be sitting where we have expected to find them.

It takes time for a new reality to be absorbed and funerals and other rituals to mark their passing, or talking to a close friend or relative can help with this. Acceptance that they have gone and will not return marks the beginning of the journey of healing.


2. To work through the pain and grief.

It is completely normal to feel a wide range of sometimes very intense emotions including pain, sadness, longing, emptiness, loneliness, guilt, anger numbness, anxiety and confusion and these need to be experienced and understood as part of the mourning process. The grieving process can also cause complete exhaustion, loss of appetite and difficulty focusing and making decisions. It is important to be patient with yourself and to just allow all of these feelings. Self kindness and good self care is also called for including eating as well as you can, trying to include some physical activity such as walking, sleeping and spending time with those whose company nourishes you and supports you.

If you are still finding it hard to process the pain and need some additional support, or are struggling with any aspect of it, you may find it helpful to talk to a therapist.


3. To adjust to a new environment without the deceased.

This task can mean different things to people depending on the relationship with the person who has died as well as the roles that have been impacted by the loss. The readjustment to life without them takes time and can require internal adjustments, external adjustment and also spiritual adjustments. These readjustments happen over an extended period of time but can begin as you re-commence your normal routine such as returning to work, school, college or any of your daily family or community activities. Changes might include getting used to living alone, learning new tasks from bill paying to taking care of the home. It might also include doing things alone – redefining how you see yourself without the other person. This task requires developing the necessary skills and asking for help when you need it in order to move forward confidently in a new environment. Sometimes hand in hand with the painful loss comes new opportunities for example more time or greater freedom after time spent taking care of someone with a long illness, or a sense of empowerment having acquired new skills out of necessity.


4. To maintain a connection to the deceased while moving on with life.

This task is about finding an appropriate, ongoing connection in our emotional lives with the person who has departed, while allowing us to continue living. This too can mean different things to each of us but it is about allowing for thoughts and memories, while at the same time engaging in things in life that are meaningful to us and that bring us pleasure. This might involve new activities, new people or new relationships. It can be very comforting to have a sense of connection to a loved one who is gone, through photographs, pictures or special items which give you a sense of their presence in your life. Finding a way to remain emotionally connected to those you have loved but lost can help you move forward with your life without them and where recalling them can bring joy instead of pain.

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