The Journey Through Grief

Part Five

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This is "Part Five" of the required text for this course. After reading this section proceed to "Part Six".

The Relationship of Grief and Love


Grief is actually a statement about your love for someone or something that is no longer with you or in the same circumstance or format of your life. It has been said that one cannot grieve over a loss if one did not love what was lost. Love is not so much an emotion as it is a posture of the heart (or spirit). Love may express itself outwardly in emotional ways. If you love someone or something, it has a significant or special value to you. However, something or someone can hold value to you, but you do not necessarily love them or it. The difference is found in the ability to back up the commitment involved in love with one’s actions.

When properly defined, love is not a feeling as our culture would typically teach us. Love in its very core definition is actually a commitment backed up by one’s actions. Love can be expressed at various levels of intensity, but ultimately, where there is no genuine core of love in a relationship, there will be no actions.   

Working through grief is definitely an “action” process. At times that process may not be dynamic or extremely noticeable, but it must be displayed actively in some style or format in the progression of grief. This is not only true for the person experiencing the grief but also for the caregiver working through the issues of loss with the afflicted.

Grief can be experienced as an intense emotional suffering. The word "grief" actually means "to carry a burden" or "to be burdened". So grief is the griever’s personal experience or statement of a loss that has occurred in their life. Grief can be so intense that it may take all a person in grief has within them just to get up and get dressed in the morning. It is in these intense circumstances that we as caregivers must be willing to listen to them and even extend practical and compassionate care on a continuous basis. It is also important to regularly extend the invitation for them to talk out their feelings and emotions.

When they respond by saying "I’m OK", and it is obvious that they are not, gently and compassionately re-extend the opportunity for them to talk openly about their feelings of love, loss or life in general. Pent up grief is poisonous to the spirit of a person. Without begging them or becoming obnoxious, you can gently urge them from time to time to take the liberty of expressing their feelings about what they are going through. This can become a time consuming process. If you truly want to help them, then you must be willing to spend the time listening to them, even when it becomes repetitive at times.. Sometimes they will only release a little "nugget" of their grief at a time. This is when you must combine patience with encouragement and be willing to endure the journey.

Sometimes people may just need someone there with them. Sometimes the expressions of grief will actually develop and come out later. They may just need another person there to relieve the loneliness caused by the loss. Because we are spiritual beings also, sometimes just our presence is some consolation or comfort in the situation. We often times do not realize how we "connect" spiritually with others just by being near them. It is important to understand the value of our presence in the life of someone overcome with grief.

Some people struggle with displaying their grief emotionally or verbalizing their pain of loss. This may be because they do not think they "have permission" to grieve. This is where we as professional care givers can let them know that it is OK to express what they are feeling or experiencing within themselves. Like we discussed earlier, they may have never seen anyone close to them grieve correctly or properly express their grief, so they do not have a correct role model or any model at all to base how grief is to be experienced or expressed.

This is exceptionally true of children and teenagers who have been raised in homes where the parents have constantly tried to protect them from potential loss or withheld them or diverted their attention away from grieving situations. Every time someone in the family died, they were shipped out to the opposite side of the family’s grandparents to live for a couple of days while Dad and Mom handled the circumstances and went to the funeral.

Other situations of loss may include one of the parents losing a job. The financial tension in the home is obvious, yet everyone in the family knows that trying to talk about it will only make it worse. The whole issue of loss is "swept under the rug" as soon as a new job is found. Everyone (kids included) are expected to go on as before like nothing ever occurred. By the time the children in these homes reach adulthood and experience a major loss in their own life, they have no idea how to deal with it. Many times they don’t even know how to describe what has happened to them.

What action in these case scenarios is missing? It is an action that displays commitment in the love of their children. If they genuinely love their children and want the best for them, they will not isolate them from loss in their life. Instead, these parents should love their children enough to compassionately include them in a healthy display and progression of grief that exposes them to the realities of loss in their life. Time after time this loving and compassionate approach towards family circumstances of loss actually turns out to be the best way for the children to learn about healthy expressions of grief and experience the committed love of their parents for them.   

In these circumstances, we must be able to help them understand what has transpired and also the various ways that they can work through their loss and grief issues. It is a combination of education, patience and compassion that connects the grieving process to the fact of their love for what or who they have lost.


Normalizing Grief


Dealing correctly with the grief / love relationship includes an informative process of what is typically referred to as normalization. Normalization lets the person experiencing grief know that what they are experiencing is normal. This information assures them that they are not a "one-of-a-kind" or a "fifth wheel" in the processes of loss and grief. This type of normalization communication must be laced with grace and compassion to be affective. It is not just an educational statement.

In the normalization process, grievers may learn that what they are experiencing is not only "typical" or "normal", but they should also be informed as to what they can expect to experience as they continue to grieve. Sometimes just this knowledge will bring some form of temporary relief and comfort that will eventually make the journey more tolerable over the full term of the grief experience.

The one thing we should remember as we help others understand the normal effects of grief, is that they are still uniquely who they are as an individual in their experience of grief. The circumstances surrounding their personal form of loss is definitely unique to them. To diminish this fact is to depersonalize their grieving process. When their experience of grief becomes depersonalized it does not create a healthy environment for them to find resolution in the grief process.   

Many times the normalization process will open the door for the grieving individual to verbally communicate their feelings and emotions about what they are experiencing. It may come in unpredicted spurts or at various seasons during their initial grief and loss experience. But the important thing is to see that the person in grief begins to communicate and express their feelings in one way or another. .

As they begin to communicate with us more openly, we may want to ask them questions like "What can I do to help you?" or "Is there something we can do together, or someplace we could go that would help meet a need you have?"

It is easy to be caught off guard by some of their responses. Some of their answers may seem a little extreme. But remember that they may be consciously or even unconsciously attempting to self medicate.  We may even need to refocus their answers away from their need to “self-medicate” in one of the four previously discussed ways. Refocusing statements will often require polite non-condemning creative and resourceful counter suggestions.    

If you have a desire to connect more with them spiritually, or you sense that a spiritual or faith based connection is something they are interested in developing, you may want to ask them “if” you can pray with them, or “what” you can pray with them about. Most people will not be offended by simple none invasive questions such as that. Recent poles indicate that well over 80% of the North American population believe that there is some form of responsive power in prayer.

Even though some may experience grief in different ways and stages, there is still a blanket of normality in the need for the grief processes that we all have in common. An example of this would be a family of four all experiencing the loss of a relative through death. Each member of a family may experience grief by issuing a different expression. One family member might be quick to display their feelings and work though various stages of denial or anger in a brief or almost unnoticeable time frame. Another family member might have a delayed reaction to the death and not start displaying their grief by communicating about it for several weeks.

Because these two members from the same family unit may have different experiences in the process and affect of grief, neither is abnormal. This is where the bridge of action and communication may need extra attention in the form of outside help from those of us extending care to them. Neither one of these two family members is correct or incorrect in their expressions of grief, just different. They are both expressing grief from their own unique personality. For them, this is normal and they need to come to that understanding as they experience and express their grief as individuals within that family unit. This normalization process should be clearly communicated as we work through the various expressions of grief with these family members in creative and informative ways.

Some of this creative informative communication can be accomplished by putting those in grief with competent resources that will help them understand what is going on in their life right now. This may come in the form of books, audio or video recordings, support group meetings and even internet web sites which offer specific and confirmed competent care for those suffering from specific forms of loss. We should never give someone a book, video or audio media unless we personally have experienced it first. Because they received the media product from you, they may assume that you are an equal or further source of information on the specific aspect or topic of grief it is dealing with. They may come to you with further questions about what you have given them to experience.

All of this is part of the process that brings us all together on the same level. The normalization process accomplished through the education of someone about the grief process, assures them that they are not abnormal or some sort of "grief freak". They should be able to see that others such as yourself, have insight and maybe even personal experience in the emotions and experiences of grief and loss. Normalization should bring a measure of relief.

Again, remember that even in the normalization of their grief and its processes, there is no "magical cure" for the pain of their loss. There is a measure of comfort and strength through normalization that should be experienced. In that, hopefully they will be able to continue on with their lives, be it ever so slowly at times. Given the necessary time, the next step through their loss should be a little easier than the previous one.


Central Institute for Educational Advancement
P.O. Box 750491 Dayton, Ohio 45475-0491