Pauline Peters, RP (Qualifying) #9412 is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at MyLife Counselling in Guelph. She works with couples and individuals 18yrs and up through anxiety, depression, and relationship issues. Learn more about Pauline here.

How to Acknowledge Grief

I just finished reading, “The Grief Recovery Handbook” by John W. James and Russell Friedman. These two authors, in this book, have shared about their own personal experiences with grief, and how we can help ourselves or someone else work through grief. The authors note that, for the most part, most people do not address their grieving properly, or know how to help another griever.

What is grief?

James and Russell note that “grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind.” They define grief as “the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” They give the example of losing a loved one to death…the loss is painful to those left behind and yet there is a sense of relief that there is no more suffering for the one who has passed. Hence, the conflict.

Fact: “8 million people in the U.S. become new grievers each year to death alone” (that does not take into account, divorce or other losses) and; “death of a loved one is experienced every 9-13 years.” (James, J.W. & Friedman, R. The Grief Recovery Handbook.(2009).)

However, grief comes in many ways. Death, illness, divorce, betrayal, financial ruin, etc. We, as a society, are so quick (and yet well-intentioned, in most cases) to use phrases such as “You’ll see your loved one again in Heaven; You can have more babies; You will learn to love again; You will get an even better job.” This is not what most people need to hear during times of loss and pain. James and Friedman note that grieving people are not wanting or needing to be fixed but rather are needing to be heard. It is often more appropriate to acknowledge someone’s loss with phrases such as, “I am so sorry that this has happened to you; I can only try and imagine how difficult this is for you; I don’t understand what you are going through, but please let me know what you need; That sucks!”

I liked this quote that the authors use,

“Grief is about a broken heart, not a broken brain.”

People who have experienced loss need mended hearts and need to be given the space and time to allow that process to occur. In fact, there is a process for grief recovery. This grief recovery, the authors suggest, comes when the grieving individual engages in small and correct choices that allows them to complete emotional ties connected with the relationships lost. For example, grievers will often deny or be unable to name emotions that accompany their loss. One small way of moving through the grief process is therefore finding ways to express and communicate these different emotions (e.g., through writing, psychotherapy, or other forms of expression). Without a way to express their emotions, grievers may cope by avoiding them through substance use/abuse, workaholism, and isolation. Ultimately, grief is cumulative and, if not completed, can have far-reaching and negative consequences for a person’s future.

Grief does not mean forgetting

We, as humans, do not have that capacity. However, we do have the ability to resolve and be resilient. The authors note that every relationship we have with someone or something is unique. Two mothers who have lost a child, while the situation may be similar, have very different relationships. For one mother to say, “I know how you feel”, according to James and Friedman, would be incorrect due to unique relationships that each of those mothers had with their own child…no relationship is the same.

So, in order for grief recovery to occur, James and Friedman note that, “‘discovering and completing what was unfinished for you in your ‘unique’ relationship” is necessary.

This means what we acknowledge and accept every aspect of the relationship – the good, the bad and the ugly. There is a tendency, especially with death, to elevate passed loved ones to “sainthood” and intentionally ignore/dismiss shortcomings. Honesty about the true nature of the relationship is required in order to complete grief.

So, if you have experienced loss, recently or in the past, I recommend reading this book and giving yourself permission to mourn, grieve, process and recover. While death is a part of living, living can be much more fulfilling when we allow ourselves the fortitude to grieve.

So, let me say to you, “I am sorry for your loss. I am sorry that you have had to endure hardship. I can only try and imagine your pain. I am listening.”

Pauline Peters, RP (Qualifying) #9412 is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at MyLife Counselling in Guelph. She works with couples and individuals 18yrs and up through anxiety, depression, and relationship issues. Learn more about Pauline here.

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