Bereavement, Grief, and Mourning

When someone I love dies, I am bereaved. The natural human response to being bereaved is grief. Grief involves not only emotions, but also has thinking, physical experience, behavioral, social, and spiritual dimensions. And when I am actively coping with, or coming to terms with, the bereavement and my grief response, I mourn.

Grief is an exhausting experience because it makes demands on all aspects of my being. It’s as if I have an enormous wound – reeling from the shock and fear that are associated with the death of the person I love. It sometimes takes all of my energy just to keep breathing and moving and protecting myself; I sometimes feel cut off from other people, knowing that they can’t possibly share this with me; and every thought I have is focused on the terrible knowledge that I will never see my loved one again.

There are two processes I come to grips with when I mourn. I attend to my loss and I restore my life. Within each of those processes are a number of tasks that I address. Dealing with the loss may involve accepting that the person will not return, and finding ways to get used to the barrage of aftershock-reminders of that finality. Dealing with the loss also involves experiencing the pain (rather than numbing myself or constantly distracting myself) in small enough doses that I don’t go crazy. I know that it’s even a good thing to avoid reminders from time to time just to get some rest.

Restoring my life involves reorienting myself in a changed world. The restoration involves repairing what is broken and redesigning what remains. Who am I now? Am I less than what I was, or am I a whole new being? As I get up and go about my everyday tasks, I have to cope with changes in lifestyle, financial circumstances, parenting demands, and family relationships.

On a daily basis, I must confront loss and restoration. Sometimes I avoid one or the other just to give myself a breathing space. At other times I work hard on one or the other in turn. I reach out for old connections and seek new connections for comfort and for direction. I have to find a space in my life’s story where I can locate this event and what it says about me, my life so far, and my future. I must also attend to the task of maintaining myself physically, psychologically and spiritually. So I get regular sleep, I eat regularly and healthily, I do some exercise three times a week, and I make sure that I do something that makes me smile every single day.

I am reminded by the research that, while the pain will never disappear, it will become less intense over time, and the episodes of grieving will become further apart. I have also heard that, when your life is broken apart, new and different and great things can happen. So I’ll make sure that I notice the good things in my life – great and small. I’ll hold on to that.


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