Grief and Grief Work


A loved one's passing is not just a time of crisis for the survivor but an opportunity to look more closely at the ideals we hold, an opportunity to to increase our own sense of concern and an opportunity to reassess life's meaning.


Similarly, grief is neither a weakness, nor a lack of faith, but a psychological necessity. It is a complex and honourable set of emotions, which include love, anger, frustration, fear, bewilderment and loneliness. Grief is cathartic and therapeutic. It provides important insights about priorities, and clarifies deep feelings. Grief can also establish and strengthen supportive relationships.


Above all, grief is a normal process .. an emotional and physical response to loss. Grief is similar for all who experience loss, although grief has been conceptualized as having stages, not every bereaved person  follows the same pattern or time course of distress. Further, these "stages" commonly overlap and alternate with one another, so that they may be more appropriately called time dimensions of grief, or phases.


Shock: When a person passes, the immediate reaction often is "Oh no, it can't be true". This denial is part of the shock phase of grief. This is the body's response to any trauma, physical or emotional. During the first days and weeks after passing, the newly bereaved person "goes through the motions" with little or no conscious awareness of what he/she is doing. Numbness, denial and disbelief may be understood as an effort to maintain control over one's circumstances and to defend against the overwhelming immediate reality of the passing.


Recoil/Protest/Despair/Disorganization: Shock only lasts for so long - then the feelings return. The emotions can be overwhelming. The range of a persons normal functioning vacillates. During this phase, a person may experience anger, feelings of abandonment, crying, physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, loss of appetite, weight gain, feelings of guilt and helplessness, relief, feeling of "going crazy", self-destructive behaviours or impulses, a need to re-live the passing of the loved one, indecision and a loss of sense of direction. This phase can last up to two years and even longer with each persons timetable being unique. Here there is a deeper cognitive acceptance of the loss that accompanies the expression of separation anxiety and/or an acceptance of the finality of the loss that underlies the expression of sadness, despair and disorganization of behaviour.


Reconciliation (Identity Reconstruction & Reorganization): In the normal course of grief, the person eventually begins to reinvest his/her energy into the present and future. The person who passed is not forgotten, but does not have as central a place in the survivor's thoughts and actions. New directions often seem appropriate and the survivor has a sense of personhood related to his/her feelings that today and tomorrow have some meaning.


Complicated or Unresolved Grief: In complicated or unresolved grief becomes conditioned by personality impairment involving attachment to and separation from significant others. Complicated grief sometimes differentiated into delayed, distorted and prolonged mourning. All these types of grief involves situations where the person remains fixed in the early or middle stages of grief work. Indices here usually involve both the degree of intensity and duration of grief. While the extremes of complicated grief is not, and must be professionally assessed.