Our article, Is There a Connection Between Grief and Resilience? opened with a well-known quotation from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger". His legacy of observations also offers us this commentary on life: "To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering" (Source: BrainyQuote).
His words lead us to this thought: surviving the death of a loved one involves finding meaning in the suffering of bereavement. It's in this suffering (a natural and essential part of the grief process) you'll ultimately find reasons to move forward with your life. It's through "grief work" that healing and personal transformation occur.
The work of grief involves recognizing—and striving to complete—the four tasks of mourning (as described in our article How to Manage the Effects of Grief and Stress), which are:
- Accept the reality of the loss
- Fully experience the changing 'pains' of grief
- Successfully adjust to your changed environment
- Reinvest in your life and in new relationships
But when you've achieved those four things, you'll not return to who you were before the death of your loved one; in truth you'll be a changed person. One woman actually described her grief experience of transformation as a "rebirth"; through constructively mourning the loss of a loved one, she became stronger and more resilient. She felt her bereavement had not only enhanced her outlook on life and confidence in her own strengths and abilities, but also her ability to set realistic goals and consistently move toward them. Through her grief work she developed her communication and problem-solving skills, as well as her ability to manage strong feelings and negative impulses. Despite its hardships, her grief work had forever changed her—for the better.
Grief Work Always Brings Change
Author Elizabeth Gilbert affirmed this when she wrote, "Someday you're gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You'll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing..." (Source: Goodreads).
This inevitability of change is also recognized by Fred Nelson, in the online article "Grief Work", who wrote, "We human beings are quite tough and we do heal. As a cut often leaves a scar, we can expect to be left with a scar after the death of someone close to us. The scar is symbolic of the fact that the death has permanently changed us in some way."
Effectively Mourning the Loss of a Loved One
Dr. Christina Hibbert, in her online article "How Do I Grieve?", wrote of TEARS, an acronym she developed to help you remember the five things she advocates as part of your grief work:
Talking: Work actively against the natural desire to sit in your grief, silent and alone. Reach out to those around you; let them know what it is you're experiencing. Tell them your story; let them share in your grief. Choosing to be heard is very important right now.
Exercise: Get outside and get physical. If outdoor sports aren't your 'cup of tea', join a gym or sign up for a yoga class. You'll sleep better and your appetite will naturally increase. Physical exercise is one of the best gifts you can give yourself right now.
Artistic expression: Fortunately, you don't have to be an artist to express yourself in a creative way. Children know it; just think of all the crayon and colored pencil drawings taped on refrigerators across America! Fight against the idea that you're not creative and turn your grief into art. Even if no one ever sees it, you'll greatly benefit from the effort.
Recording emotions & experiences: This creative exercise can be a major change agent in your bereavement. If recording your thoughts with pen and paper doesn't suit, you can always use a handheld digital recorder or download a voice recorder app for your phone. Dr. Hibbert argues: "When we write the things we have seen, heard and feel, we are better able to gain insight and understanding, for it allows us to capture and revisit our experiences, ensuring we do not miss the important lessons being taught."
Sobbing: This is not just quiet weeping into a handkerchief. Sobbing occurs when noise is involved: loud, convulsive catching of the breath. It's hard work—a full body experience—which is best done when alone, as it can be disturbing to watch. Sobbing helps you in many ways so, when the emotions of grief become too much to bear, let them out.
Mourning the Loss of a Loved One is Arduous Work
You need to be patient; allow yourself all the time you need to do your grief work. When you actively strive to resolve your grief you'll find things will get steadily easier; but it may take longer than you expected or hoped. Believe us when we say with support and patient effort, you'll not only survive your loss, but you will have developed a refined set of coping skills and a greater level of resilience—preparing you for the losses to come.
Nelson, Fred, "Grief Work", Canadian Virtual Hospice, accessed September, 2016
Hibbert, Christina, "How Do I Grieve?", Dr. Christina Hibbert, 2010