How do we Grieve?

"You should be strong." "You have to get on with your life" "Don't wallow in self-pity." These common but inappropriate responses to grief reflect the fact that our society has not taught people how to grieve well and, as a result, many of us don't appreciate the reason for grieving and the process of grieving. When we lose a significant relationship, we must go through a process of adapting to that loss. Therese Rando in the book How to Go On Living When Someone you Love Dies discusses how grief work is necessary to enable you to move beyond the loss and make the changes required to accommodate the loss. "The purpose of grief and mourning is to get to the point where you can live with the loss healthily, after having made the necessary changes to do so."

Grief is an ongoing process. A common myth concerning grief is that there are a series of stages that everyone goes through in a particular order. While this is not true, there are main categories of responses that most people experience. These tasks or phases of mourning are fluid and experienced differently by different people and with different types of losses.

  1. "This can't be true." The first reaction many people have, particularly to a sudden death, is a sense of shock accompanied by denial and disbelief. It is common to hope that, somehow, this is a terrible mistake and the person is not really dead.
  2. Accepting the reality of the loss and experiencing all the pain and other feelings that accompany it is a second task of grief. Rando terms this the "Confrontation" phase. Although you may want to avoid these intense, painful, feelings, you need to experience them to move on with the grief work.
  3. A third task involves adjusting to life without the person and investing emotional energy into other relationships. Termed the "Accommodation" phase by Rando, a gradual decline of grief is experienced during this time. You begin to be able to enjoy other relationships again and begin to feel more like your old self. You begin to establish a relationship with the deceased that has a special feeling, but allows you to go forward and form new relationships with others.

Although we generally progress through these tasks, most people tend to move back and forth between them at different times. All of these tasks or phases vary in intensity, length of time, and individual experience. Your experience will not be the same as another's.