An Introduction to Grieving

By Kenneth J. Doka, PhD, Hospice Foundation of America

Whenever we face loss, we experience grief. Our reactions are unique and individual; none of us experience grief in the same way.

As we experience loss, we may need to remind ourselves of these basic facts. Sometimes we torture ourselves wondering why we do not respond as others, even our family members, do. But each of us is different.

I often describe grief as a roller coaster. It is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, times that we may think we are doing better and times that we may think we are sure we are not. The metaphor reminds us that our sense of progress may feel very uneven.

Common emotions may include feelings of sadness, longing for the person's presence, jealousy of others who have not experienced our loss, even relief that a prolonged illness has ended. These feelings may trouble us, but they are normal and natural responses to grief. We may feel anger-at God, towards the person who died, perhaps towards someone who we feel is not responding the way we'd like him or her to respond. We may feel guilt, too. Could we have done something differently or done more? We may even feel responsible for the loss.

Grief may affect us in other ways. In some, the experience of grief may be physical: aches and pains, difficulty eating or sleeping, fatigue. We may constantly think of the person, even replaying in our mind some final episode or experience. Grief can affect our spiritual selves. We may struggle to find meaning in our loss; our relationship with God may change.

But there are things we can do to help ourselves as we experience grief.

  • Accept the fact that we are grieving. Take time to grieve, to realize that life will be different, and sometimes difficult. We need to be gentle with ourselves.
  • Learn from the ways we have handled loss before. We need to draw on our resources-the coping skills we have, our own sources of support, and our spiritual strengths. And from earlier experiences, we can learn the mistakes we need to avoid.
  • Realize that we do not have to struggle alone. We can share our grief with family and friends. We can seek help from clergy or counselors. Hospices and funeral homes may be able to suggest mutual support groups. And librarians and bookstores can recommend books that can assist us as we grieve.

Taken from HFA's bereavement newsletter, Journeys, the "Newly Bereaved" issue.

By Kenneth Doka. Kenneth J. Doka, PhD, MDiv, is Senior Consultant to Hospice Foundation of America and Professor of Gerontology at the College of New Rochelle in New York.

©2008 Hospice Foundation of America. All Rights Reserved

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