Surviving Grief, Moving from Despair to Hope

Surviving Grief, Moving from Despair to Hope
by Robert Wright, Jr., Ph.D., COFT


According to research by the Association for Death Education and Counseling many millions of American are suffering from pain, anguish, and grief due to the death of a close loved one. Every day experience teaches us that almost all of us know someone who is grieving deeply or we may be personally grieving our own loss of a close loved one.

Kubler-Ross’ famous five stage grief model describes the emotional stages a person can experience when faced with the death of a close loved one – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. However, although this model is helpful for describing the grief process, the Grief Recovery Institute provides a more practical grief model – defining grief as a sense of loss due to the changed relationship with the deceased loved one resulting in incomplete communications. From this perspective, grief and grieving are viewed as “normal” and the emotional pain and suffering we experience are dealt with by acknowledging the mixed emotions you might have about the deceased loved one.

For example, if the deceased loved one was severely incapacitated or in a coma, you may feel simultaneously relieved that they are no longer experiencing excruciating pain yet feel a deep sense of loss from no longer being able to speak to or physically touch your loved one. Also, you may feel regret over things said or left unsaid, e.g. “I wish I had listened to you.” “I never told you how much I really loved you and appreciated all the things you did for me.”

Whether the grief experience is “expected” or “unexpected” the intense hurt and suffering felt while grieving has the capacity to incapacitate you as well as shatter your worldview since it strikes at the core of your Being. An unhappy byproduct of the normal grieving process can trigger Existential Grief – that is, a state whereby you lose your sense of place in the world, lose faith in a Higher Being or God, or begin to question the meaning of life. Existential Grief can heighten your fears of abandonment, raise your level of anxiety, and increase your fear that the world is not a safe place.

Since grief can cause such devastating negative traumas in our lives, learning how to survive and recover from the death of a close loved one is essential for healthy well being and healing. Here are some suggestions for ways of handling your grief so that you can survive and recover.

Acknowledgement: Acknowledge that your hopes and dreams have been shattered and that your life will never be the same.

Take Action: Isolation and denial are counterproductive to recovery. Allow others to help you and get professional therapeutic assistance or join a bereavement support group. Seeing how others deal with their grief helps you feel that you are not alone in your own suffering.

Helpful Things to Say to a Griever: “I can’t imagine how you feel.” “No one could possibly know how you feel.” This allows the grieving person “space” and the opportunity to “open up” if they choose to do so.

Unhelpful Things to Say to a Griever: “I understand how you feel.” “You’ll feel better soon, it just takes time.” “You’re young, you can marry again.” “You’re young, you can have another child.” “How are you feeling?” Although you may mean well, saying any of these things may only intensify a person’s pain or make them angry!

Ways to Offer Support to a Griever: “I’ll do the laundry and shopping and double check that the kids do their homework.” “How about a hug, I’m here for you.” Practice silence and just “be there” for emotional support. Doing so can provide a special healing balm and most of all hope for the future.


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