The Journey Through Grief

Facing our grief over the loss of a loved one can seem like a frightening journey into a foreign land of dark corners and scary terrain. We may wonder how we will survive the days ahead. Metaphorically, we might view the first days of shock and sorrow as walking on a barely lit unfamiliar road. We may feel very alone regardless of whether we have companions.

But within days some light shines through, and the shadows around us feel less frightening. With the pas­sage of time, sometimes weeks or months, we move back into ordinary daylight. The trek begins with disbelief and hopefully completes with acceptance of the loss and mov­ing forward in life.

There are no timetables for how long grieving persists. But as a road map for the journey, it may help to notice three different periods of grief that we move in and out of for some time—shock, mourning, and reinvesting in life.

Death always feels unreal, expected or not. We react by feeling shocked and perhaps numb. And so at first we may be unemotional and able to manage our lives pretty well. We are hanging on the edges of our pain, but we don’t really fully feel it yet.

Another phase is the mourning period, when we may feel flooded with feelings like sadness, anger, longing, loneliness, regret and the like. The intensity of our feel­ings may scare us. Our hearts, minds and bodies are all impacted. We don’t feel up to par. We often cannot con­centrate or focus. Our minds may race, or we find our­selves obsessing over the life and death of our loved one.

This phase of grief is the most difficult as it is hard to find our way back to who we were. We cannot hide from the reality of our loss. Those of us who cry easily may feel we are crying all the time. Those who want to resume “normal” activities may feel thwarted by difficulty con­centrating. The pain of our loss may feel endless. We may feel hopeless to move beyond our feelings. It is important to remember this is a phase that will not last forever.
The third phase of the grief journey is reinvesting in life. As our sense of loss diminishes, we have more energy and more interest in our lives. We begin to move forward toward the possibility of new friends, new activities, and new pleasures. Our attention moves into the present time instead of being preoccupied with who and what we have lost.

Eventually we need to give ourselves permission to live fully, even though our loved one is no longer here. The best memorial we can give to our dead loved ones is to live a great life in their honor.
by Judy Tatelbaum, MSW, LCSW, a psychotherapist, public speaker, and author.
Journeys with Grief: A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement, copyright Hospice Foundation of America, 2018.