There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love. Thornton Wilder
It is vital
to our healing to understand how our sadness and the complex emotions of grief affect us day to day. Community grief programs
sponsored by hospice can provide experienced grief counselors who offer grief education and counseling in a safe, supportive
environment. No one knows our personal pain of grief as we do, but there are others who know how to listen to what we have
to say and accept how we feel in the moment.
Low cost grief support programs and resources for adults, families
and children are offered in most communities through the local hospice organizations. For information about a hospice in your
area, look in the yellow pages of a phone book under Hospice, or do a search on your smart phone or computer.
Grief support is available in most communities through many different sources. If your loved one died
in a hospital, the Pastoral Care Department of that hospital may be a place to turn. Religious organizations, funeral homes
and social services will usually have a list of grief resources for you or someone who concerns you. A telephone call to inquire
about grief supportive services may well be an important first step in coping with the death of a person you love.
If you prefer online support, I recommend the Grief Healing Discussion Groups. It is a safe, anonymous, place where you can share your stories of loss and ask questions to learn
more about the normal grieving process. The site is moderated by certified hospice bereavement counselors.
We never recover from the loss of someone we deeply loved. Reconciliation, or adjustment, means we can face and bear the loss, but we are permanently changed as a result. Some of the changes
may be positive as we gain or discover strength within ourselves. We do not have to forever live a life of misery because
it is possible to grow through grief.(1) We have the potential for deeper meaning in our own lives after the death of someone
The goals of professional grief counseling should help you learn how to: accept the loss
without denial; experience the pain of grief in a safe way; adjust to the new environment without the deceased (or with the
loss); withdraw emotional energy from the loss and focus it elsewhere in a constructive way; say your goodbyes (let go with
love); and, move on to a new and different life, as you take your cherished memories with you.(2)
There is a wide range of normal emotions, behaviors and time frames of grief associated with
the death of a loved one. Some prolonged reactions, however, may be warning signals that you're in trouble and need additional
assistance. Remember, too, that prolonged grief goes beyond the expectations of normal grief in both severity and duration.
Normal grief is healing, while prolonged grief is destructive.
Physical manifestations of unresolved/chronic grief
include, but are not limited to: sleep disorders, loss of appetite or binge-eating, being more accident-prone, social withdrawal,
thoughts of suicide, confusion, hallucinations, lethargy, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, angry outbursts,
depression or despair, loneliness and a hollow yearning.(3)
The physical symptoms of unresolved
grief carry profound messages for change, but often go unrecognized and untreated. Because the physical symptoms of chronic
grief can mimic the symptoms of a major disease process such as heart attack or clinical depression, please consult with your
physician to rule out serious illness.
Needless to say, unresolved grief is a painful place to be that can eventually
cause prolonged illness and interfere with every aspect of your life. Learning to cope and find meaning after the death of
a loved one is not an easy journey. The way is filled with hills and valleys. Listening to the messages of grief can put you
in a healing cycle of relearning the world--if you understand the language of loss.
NOTE: Letters from the Heart addresses thoughts of suicide as a natural desire for reunion. For more on depression, click How Sad Is Sad?
Consider asking for professional help if you answer 'yes' to any of the following questions:(4)
* Are you still unable to believe that your loved one is dead even after a prolonged period of time?
Look for clues such as a continued unwillingness to touch or move any of your loved ones personal belongings.
note: The physical objects of the loved one who has died comfort us. They help us remember and honor the life that was lived.
Attachment to objects is not wrong and may help us heal. Never hurry to dispose of personal effects. Some people leave items
untouched for weeks, months, or even years. The question to ask here is: Do the personal belongings of the deceased loved
one offer you comfort or prolong your grief? If they offer comfort, you are healing. Prolonged grief adds to the suffering.
* Have you isolated yourself from friends and family with no concern for what is happening in their lives?
* Have you stopped doing things that used to give you pleasure? Have you noticed that this lack of interest has gone
on for quite a while?
* Are you unable to take care of your basic needs such as eating, paying your bills, running
errands, cleaning your house, personal hygiene, etc.?
* Is there a marked deterioration in your health?
* Have you had a prolonged and dramatic change in your sleep pattern and mood?
* Do you use alcohol or drugs
on a regular basis to numb the pain of your loss?
* Do the people who love you express concern for you that is
specific and chronic in nature? Are you worried about yourself?
* Do you have thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself?
If you've always been in control, it may be hard for you to seek professional counseling, but it is not
a sign of weakness to ask for help. In fact, asking for help at a difficult time is a tremendous act of courage. Please, if
you need help with the overwhelming pain of grief, get it. Gloom has no value of itself. Your departed loved one wants you
to be happy again--but it takes time.
1. Healing and the Grief Process, Lynn Keegan, RN,
editor. (Boston, Delmar Publishers, 1997), page 81.
2. Akner, Lois F., C.S.W., How to Survive the Loss of
a Parent: A Guide for Adults, (New York, William Morrow and Company, 1993), p. 107-109.
3. Healing and
the Grief Process, op. cit., p. 19.
4. Akner, op. cit., p. 110-111.