When a loved one dies, the bereaved are left with many responsibilities including notifying family members and friends, making funeral and burial arrangements and dealing with financial documents and legal paperwork.
Eventually, however, the most important task for the bereaved is to attend to their grief work.
Many bereaved men and women are confused by the term “grief work”. I have been asked over and over again to explain what is involved with grief work.
Grief work is the process of coming to terms with the fact that your loved one has died and the life you have known has now changed…forever.
- It will be the most difficult work you do.
- It has no time table.
- It is not optional; you must do it.
Tasks of grief work include initially denying the death of your loved one, being angry, bargaining, feeling depressed and eventually accepting the death of your loved one.
All these tasks of grief require you to address and express your feelings. Trying to ignore and stuff your feelings will NOT work.
- Denying the death of your loved one looks and sounds like this: You “see” your deceased parent in a crowd, you hear the garage door open and expect your deceased spouse to walk in the door from work, you pick up the phone to call your deceased child, etc. You yearn for and search out the deceased. Denial protects the bereaved initially from the brutal shock of the reality of the death of your loved one.
- Anger is a natural response to the death of a loved one. You can be angry at God, the doctors, yourself or your deceased loved one. You want to shout, “It’s not fair”, because it’s not! Anger often comes through as bitterness, irritability, restlessness and tension. Expressed anger can be a positive motivator but it must be diffused in productive ways such as writing a letter and burning it, screaming into a pillow, exercising, music, prayer and meditation. Unfortunately, anger is not always directed toward the person giving rising to it. Sometimes anger pushes family and friends away. Anger requires an awful lot of energy, of which you don’t have much, so best to deal with it and get rid of it.
- Bargaining includes all the “what if”s and “if only”s. You want to turn back the hands of time and have a different outcome. You negotiate saying “if only I went to the doctor sooner” or “if only I got a second opinion” or “what if I had gone here or done this”, etc. You beg to have your loss reversed; to wake up and have it all be a bad dream. You might be obsessed with thinking about what you could have done differently to avoid the loss. In the bargaining stage you are “wrestling with the devil’ as you attempt to negotiate the pain and hurt of your loss. You are searching for answers of which there are none.
- Depression may occur when you realize that your loved one is not going to return and you cannot do anything it. Your anger and helplessness turn inward and you suffer symptoms of depression including lack of sleep or too much sleep, crying, inability to eat, and a total lack of interest in life. You may also feel lonely, isolated and lost. (You may have come to this I AM SO LOST blog due to these feelings of depression). Unfortunately, friends and family often are not able to understand and support you because they believe you should be “over it” and “moving on” by now. You need to find a supportive listener or join a grief group in order to share your story and express your feelings.
- Accepting the death of a loved one does not mean you are okay with it! It means you have stopped denying and bargaining and have moved forward to make meaning out of the death. You are able to once again plan for a future and participate in daily life. You are no longer simply surviving but you are living and hopefully on your way to thriving.
These tasks of grief work are not necessarily linear. You might bounce back and forth or be working on more than one task at a time.
It is not necessary to go through each and every stage in order to heal.
It is important to note that the emotions you feel during your grief work are all NORMAL, even though you might feel like you are a crazy person.
Every journey of grief is unique and accordingly the grief work for each bereaved will be different. Where are you in your grief work?