For a long time, we used the Kubler-Ross model to help grievers know what they would experience during the grieving process. This model highlighted stages. Mistakenly, some of us thought we went from one stage to the next. Actually, we may go back and forth from one stage to another. What has been helpful for me is Worden's Four Tasks of Grief.
1. The First Task is to accept the reality of the loss. When a death happens, it is hard to believe that it is true. My father died while walking on the beach during a family reunion. We had no warning, so of course it was a tremendous shock. It did not seem real. It was unbelievable. On the other hand, my mother suffered for a long time with cancer. Karen and I talked to her the night she died. Her voice was so weak that we knew she would not make it through the evening. Even though we knew it was going to happen, it was a shock. This illustrates the point that whether we know death is imminent or death happens without warning, we are in shock and disbelief when it happens.There seems to be no way to prepare. We cannot handle the emotional impact that loss has given us until we come to terms with the fact that our loved one has died and this is irreversible.
Coming to an acceptance of the reality of loss takes time since it involves not only an intellectual acceptance but also an emotional one. The old adage that "time heals all wounds" is not true for everyone. For some of us, even the first year feels like we just started. Time heals only if we allow ourselves to cry, talk, and process our grief.
2. The second task is to process the pain of grief. Grief uncorks all the emotions. One phenomenon I have witnessed has been what I call "historical feelings." These are suppressed feelings we had from the past. For example, we may have believed that our brother was the favorite and was given more than we were. At the funeral, our grief uncorks the suppressed anger. We may express our anger toward that person and accuse him of being greedy and taking more than his share of our loved ones' possessions.
The old adage that "time heals all wounds"
is not true for everyone. For some of us,
even the first year feels like we just started.
Time heals only if we allow ourselves to cry,
talk, and process our grief.
One of the strongest feelings we may experience in the grieving process is anxiety. Grief brings up feelings such as guilt, anger, depression, loneliness, and relief. We know that anger is the key emotion. There is a feeling of powerlessness. Our world has changed and we weren't asked for our input.
Next month we will discuss the final two tasks.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700
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