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Valuable Tools For Working With Grief
By Kate Siner Francis Ph.D.

No matter where we are from or what has happened to us, each one of us deals with grief throughout our life. There is the grief that comes with the loss of a loved one and there is grief that is a necessary response to what we may carry with us from our childhood. There is also grief as a result of changes in our lives such as relocation, birth of a child, or a new job. This grief is there regardless of whether the change is inherently one that we are happy about or not; all change implies some degree of loss. In fact, the experience of grief is necessary to our overall health and wellbeing. Our goal is not to avoid grief but to learn to grieve well -to deeply feel, to honor these feeling and then to release them.

Accept: In order to begin the process of grief, one must first accept there is a process to start. In AA, they say that you begin sobriety by admitting that you have a problem. In a grief process, a person will benefit from first acknowledging that there is a reason for the grief.

Clarify: Whether you are grieving because of a life change, death of a loved one, or divorce, the specifics of what you are mourning are also important. In the beginning, it is possible for it to be as straight forward as, "I am grieving the loss of my partner." However, over time it is important to understand the nuances of why you are grieving. For example, no one will ever love me like she did or I have lost my dream for the future. Knowing the specifics about what you are grieving can be helpful in moving the grieving process.

Here is an example of how to probe for the core reasons you are grieving:

Example: I am grieving the loss of my spouse through divorce.

Question #1: Is this the only loss you are grieving? Answer: No, I am grieving the loss of my dream for the future. I am grieving the loss of my ideal family. I am grieving the loss of my identity. I am grieving the loss of sense of fairness. Question #2: What specifically about your dream for the future are you grieving? Answer: I am grieving feeling loved by another. I am grieving a sense financial stability. I am grieving social status. I am grieving being old with someone I love who really knows me.

Imagine: Many therapeutic techniques rely on the use of the imagination to set right, what we were or are actually unable to set right. In a grief process, we can use the imagination to understand our feelings as well as resolve situations where we feel conflict. For example, we can imagine ourselves having a conversation with someone of significance or we might imagine what an event might have been like if we had handled it the way that we now think is best.

Here are two examples of how to engage your imagination to help your grieving process:

Another person: If there is a person on whom your grief work focuses around you can begin by writing a letter to this person. What is it you would like them to know? At first it may be a flood of different emotions. As the emotions become clear, you can focus on one of them. For example: an "I-am-really-angry-that-you-left-me" letter or an "I-am-so-sad-without-you" letter. The more you clearly imagine elements of this exchange the more beneficial it will be to your grieving process.

Yourself: Sometimes, we are grieving our own ability or lack of ability to do or say something in the past. We can imagine our doing or saying something in that moment in the past that is more in alignment with the way we think that we would have preferred acting. While this does not change the past event, it relieves some of the tension around it and increases the likelihood that we will be able to handle a situation like that better in the future.

Ritualize: Throughout time, people have had ceremonies and rituals that help them mark the beginnings and ends of significant events. Rituals provide a space to grieve, sometimes to be witnessed or held in this grief, a marker whether in time or with an object of significance of the grief, and an intentional and optimally timely end to the grief. While many people are unfamiliar with the idea of creating a personal ritual, this is always an option regardless of religious affiliation or lack there of. The best way to explore options for ritually processing grief is to look at how people have done it before you. The right method will be one that you feel a sense of resonance with. As if it sets something right inside of your heart.

Many of us have been taught to distance ourselves from grief. However, grief is an important part of life. Without it, we would be unaware of magnificence and joy. When we let ourselves deeply grieve, we rise up refreshed and renewed. We know that on the other side of pain and loss are deep joy and the beauty of existence.


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