4th September 2023

Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D. says



Grief is a Journey - Not 5 Stages

The death of someone loved changes our lives forever.

And the movement from the "before" to the "after" is almost always a long, painful journey. From my own experiences with loss, as well as those of the thousands of grieving people I have worked with over the years, I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief.

Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes ploughing directly into its raw centre.

I have also learned that the journey requires mourning.
There is an important difference, you see. Grief is what you think and feel on the inside after someone you love dies.
Mourning is the outward expression of those thoughts and feelings.

To mourn is to be an active participant in our grief journeys. We all grieve when someone we love dies, but if we are to heal, we must also mourn.

For a while your grief journey will be an intensely personal, unique experience. All mourners must yield to this set of basic human needs if they are to heal.

This first need of mourning involves gently confronting the reality that someone you care about will never physically come back into your life again.
Whether the death was sudden or anticipated, acknowledging the full reality of the loss may occur over weeks and months.

This need of mourning requires us to embrace the pain of our loss - something we naturally don't want to do.
It is easier to avoid, repress or deny the pain of grief than it is to confront it, yet it is in confronting our pain that we learn to reconcile ourselves to it.

Do you have any kind of relationship with someone when they die?
Of course. You have a relationship of memory.
Precious memories, dreams reflecting the significance of the relationship and objects that link you to the person who died (such as photos, souvenirs etc.) are examples of some of the things that give testimony to a different form of a continued relationship. This need of mourning involves allowing and encouraging yourself to pursue this relationship.

But some people may try to take your memories away. Trying to be helpful, they encourage you to take down all the photos of the person who died. They tell you to keep busy or even to move out of your house. But in my experience, remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible. Your future will become open to new experiences only to the extent that you embrace the past.

Part of your self-identity comes from the relationships you have with other people.
When someone with whom you have a relationship dies, your self-identity, or the way you see yourself, naturally changes.

You may have gone from being a "wife" or "husband" to a "widow" or "widower."
You may have gone from being a "parent" to a "bereaved parent."
The way you define yourself and the way society defines you is changed.

A death often requires you to take on new roles that had been filled by the person who died.
After all, someone still has to take out the 'bin', someone still has to buy the groceries.
You confront your changed identity every time you do something that used to be done by the person who died.
This can be very hard work and can leave you feeling very drained.

You may occasionally feel child-like as you struggle with your changing identity.
You may feel a temporarily heightened dependence on others as well as feelings of helplessness, frustration, inadequacy and fear.

When someone you love dies, you naturally question the meaning and purpose of life.

You probably will question your philosophy of life and explore religious and spiritual values as you work on this need.
You may discover yourself searching for meaning in your continued living as you ask "How?" and "Why" questions.

"How could God let this happen?" "Why did this happen now, in this way?"
The death reminds you of your lack of control. It can leave you feeling powerless.

The person who died was a part of you.
This death means you mourn a loss not only outside of yourself, but inside of yourself as well.
At times, overwhelming sadness and loneliness may be your constant companions.

This death also calls for you to confront your own spirituality.
You may doubt your faith and have spiritual conflicts and questions racing through your head and heart.
This is normal and part of your journey toward renewed living.

The quality and quantity of understanding support you get during your grief journey will have a major influence on your capacity to heal.
You cannot - nor should you try to - do this alone.

You may have heard - indeed you may believe - that your grief journey's end will come when you resolve, or recover from, your grief.
But your journey will never end. People do not "get over" grief.

Reconciliation is a term I find more appropriate for what occurs as the mourner works to integrate the new reality of moving forward in life without the physical presence of the person who died.
With reconciliation comes a renewed sense of energy and confidence, an ability to fully acknowledge the reality of the death and a capacity to become reinvolved in the activities of living.

Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future, realizing that the person who died will never be forgotten, yet knowing that your life can and will move forward.

Un-edited version avaiable, on request

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