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Why it is so important to experience the pain of grief.

Grieving is hard work. It takes a lot of physical and mental energy. I bet no one has ever told you that before, but I will. Author, hospice nurse and grief counselor Patricia Kelley explains that “Grieving is a journey toward healing the pain that is caused by our loss.” If you ever have taken any type of journey, you know there is time and physical effort as well as mental energy that needs to be put into it, before, during and after. So why would the journey of grieving be any different?

Researchers such as Erich Lindemann, Parkes and Weiss as well as many authors have described the tasks of grieving in many ways, but essentially, they encompass:

1. To believe that the death really happened (Denial and acceptance are stages of grief that one does go through)

2. To experience the pain of the grief. (Avoidance of this task would be preferred, but going on with life is easier if we take the time to grieve.)

3. To learn to live without the person who died. (Healing)

This blog will focus on the second task of grieving. Ironically, as we work through the first task, we are also working on the second task of grieving as these two tasks are closely related. In an ideal world, the more we accept the reality of the death, the more we experience the pain of our loss. The more we feel pain, the more we believe the person really did die. Who wants to experience pain willingly? So, it may take considerable time for us to absorb fully the reality and the finality of another person’s death, as we absorb a little pain at a time.

Wanting to avoid pain is instinctive. The feelings that one experiences after a death include sadness, depression, anger, loneliness, confusion, helplessness, guilt, anxiety, and many others. We can delay these feelings for a while as we deal with the immediate decisions that must be made after a death. However, we do need to experience the pain of our grief eventually. Going through the pain can help you find peace and healing from your grief.

Have you ever heard someone say to a mourner that they must be strong in their grief? I’ve blogged about how unhelpful this attitude is. Mourners feel a great deal of pressure to show others that they are coping, or handling their grief well, or even getting over their grief in such a timely manner. These attitudes couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Mourners also often hear from well-meaning people comments that make their pain worse. It is best to avoid those people who tell you what you should think or feel. Death doulas can act as a “stupidity monitor” for the mourner.

Death doulas are people who can help. We can remind people that painful feelings are to be expected when we grieve and that experiencing them helps us go through our grief toward healing. We can be the person who gives you permission not to be strong. We understand your emotions in context, allow you to cry openly and most importantly listen when you are willing to talk (even if it is at odd hours).

In conclusion, understanding the tasks of grieving can help us to understand our reactions and our needs. Grief hurts. Well- meaning people can make you feel worse, so spend some time around people who respect your feelings and reactions. Going on with life is easier if we take the time to grieve. Seek professional help to deal with your complicated grief.


Companion to Grief Finding Consolation When Someone You Love Has Died by Patricia Kelley

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