Mind Matters — Strategies of Grief

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, when she delineated the five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance), never meant them to be written in stone. In fact, she never even meant them to be a description of grief after the death of a loved one. The stages were based on her observations of the dying person in relation to his or her own death.

We can be grateful to Kübler-Ross for her pioneering efforts in the field of death and dying. However, to remain wedded to her stages limits a deeper understanding of how we grieve.

Recently, I attended a conference presented by Robert Neimeyer, Ph.D., on grief therapy.

As humans, we all must at some point in our lives face loss. Try hard as we may, by keeping busy with work, shopping, etc (or by mind-numbing non-activity), we all encounter loss (and eventually we must face our own death). Neimeyer himself was confronted with a traumatic grief as a twelve-year-old, when his father committed suicide. It appears that this tragedy may indeed have given impetus for him to find meaning in his own life, eventually becoming a master therapist and teacher on coping with grief.

Words to forget when it comes to grief:

Neimeyer reminds us that the death of a loved one can tear apart our assumptive world. Our fundamental belief system is shaken. This loss of our assumptive world that accompanies the loss of a loved one hurtles us into a search for meaning in a vastly changed universe. The trauma repair necessitates the integration of the loss into our own personal narrative so that we can come to some sense of restoration, and new, albeit changed, relationship with our loved ones who died.

While some of us may be fortunate enough not to have major losses affect us until much later in life, no one escapes the little losses that occur throughout life. These little events can be our teachers.

Neimeyer gives ten practical strategies for coping—some to be practiced well before a major loss, others to be utilized in the event of a great loss:

  1. Take the little losses seriously: moving, friend moving away, death of a pet (although for some, this is a major loss).
  2. Take time to feel—find some alone time.
  3. Find healthy ways to relieve stress.
  4. Make sense of your loss.
  5. Confide in someone. Ask for help, a listening ear.
  6. Let go of the need to control others.
  7. Ritualize the loss in a personally significant way.
  8. Allow yourself to change.
  9. Harvest the legacy of the loss.
  10. Center in your spiritual convictions.

[For anyone of any age who feels touched by grief, the Grief Awareness Consortium of Delaware is hosting a free event, Life After Loss: Sunday, November 7, 2010, 1:00-4:30PM, Newark Senior Center, 200 White Chapel Drive, Newark, DE 19713. For more information, or to register, go to http://www.degac.org/.]