Learning to Deal With Grief

The following is an adaptation of an article in Never Too Late, January 2001, published by the Pima Council on Aging. It offers some good advice, so far as it goes. As one might expect from secular sources, the religious component of the struggle is completely absent. Nothing is said about prayer, for instance.

We Orthodox Christians are celebrating Christ's Holy Resurrection. Therefore, the Resurrection troparion still rings in our ears from chanting it in our daily prayers: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the graves bestowing life." The risen Savior has trampled down our death by His death, and by His Resurrection we will be raised from the dead. This is our consolation. This is our joy. This gives us hope.


Periods of grief following the death of family members or friends are experienced by people of all ages. As we grow older, however, these separations become more frequent. Knowing how to deal with your emotions can help you through the grief process.

There are times when the pain and anguish of losing a loved one can be overwhelming. The separation by death is so difficult to handle. However we must face the fact that death is as much a part of the life cycle as birth, and it can be dealt with. We cannot know what grief will be like until we experience it first hand. We expect to be sad and hurt, but we may be surprised to feel other emotions, such as anger and guilt.

There's no getting around the pain; one must get through it. Avoiding the emotions of grief is a dangerous business that can lead to illness and serious distress.

Grieving consists of all the feelings, reactions, and changes that occur during the process of healing. Allowing yourself to grieve, to feel the anguish and fear and pain, enables you to pick up your life and go forward.

Healing is accomplished by grief work — experiencing, expressing, and managing the emotions. Surviving grief does not mean that the one who died will no longer be missed. The person is in your life forever, and you can continue to love him or her. But eventually the love becomes a smaller part of your.life. In due time, one lets the beloved one go with love.

Time does heal the emotional wound. There seems to be some kind of typical pattern that is time-related. However, everyone is different, and no one should regard as abnormal any difference between this typical pattern and his own stages of grief.

Stage 1. The weeks immediately following a death are a time of numbness and confusion. Nothing is normal. You may have feelings of shock, disbelief, protest, and denial. Because death is a forced separation, a tearing apart, it causes you to feel helpless and powerless to control the events of your life. Yet you are swept along with responsibilities and with decisions that must be made. Often this forced activity is a blessing. This is the final act of giving and paying tribute to the loved one. It may help you through the first few days, giving you a chance to comprehend your loss.

During this stage you must change old habits that included interacting with your loved one. Tears and profound sadness may come up at unexpected times. It is every important to let those feelings out. It is cleansing and purifying. Stopping yourself from letting the tears flow serves no function. However, letting go will bring some release of pain. Talking to the deceased person is a way to release stress. It is a way of completing the unfinished business in the relationship.

The simplest habits of daily living such as shopping, eating, or dressing may become burdensome for a while, but every day will take you farther along the path to recovery.

Stage 2. Now comes the period in which recovery begins to take place. You still feel the pain and confusion, but this gradually diminishes. This stage may take a year or longer.

Stage 3. This period may last as long as two years. The survivor settles into a pattern in which new habits become routine, daily tasks become more automatic, and emotional pain is less acute. The intensity of mourning diminishes and it is not as devastating as earlier. Eating habits, sleeping habits, and memory gradually return to normal. A sense of humor and enjoyment of life return. Anger, guilt, anxiety, and doubt about being able to survive on your own should be part of the past or rapidly fading by this time.

Stage 4. This period begins at the end of the second year. Usually by this time the old and new habits of life have blended and are carried out without conscious thought. Relationships have pretty well settled into a comfortable flow and life is less fragmented and hectic. You know that you can survive any loss. You may not want to, but you can. By this time you know that the pain passes.

Survivors of death feel different sets of reactions, and must work through their grieving processes at whatever pace and time is necessary for them as individuals. After working through them, death is less feared and sometimes even looked forward to. Once we accept death, we often recognize a need to put our affairs in order, to resolve unfinished conflicts, and to renew or deepen our relationships.

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