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
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
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
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
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.