The formation of strong attachments is a primary need in life, commencing with the mother-infant bond, which is necessary for survival. This is a basic biological process. Loss and grief as well is a normal, natural part of life. Even animals manifest characteristic responses to loss that include agitation, anger, withdrawal and despair. This pattern is also evident in toddlers who are separated from their parents during hospitalizations.
Grief is a process that occurs naturally over time, in response to the losses that are inherent in life. Grief that is uncomplicated is often handled well with the support of family, friends, religious institutions and the community. In today’s world, where community, family and religious support is not as prevalent, however, it may be helpful to engage in grief counseling. Having someone there to listen compassionately and witness your experience and share the journey with you can be immeasurably healing.
Sometimes grieving is more complicated. When there are unresolved earlier losses or separations, the earlier losses need to be resolved before the current loss can be processed. Complicated grief is especially implicated when the grieving period is prolonged, with multiple losses, when there are behavioral or somatic symptoms, and when the grief reaction is exaggerated. In these situations, grief therapy is especially recommended.
Each person has their own unique experience of grief. A common initial response is disbelief and numbness. This is often followed by an intense yearning to be with the loved one again. Anger, confusion, anxiety, panic, guilt, sadness and/or a relief are often a part of the mourning process. Grief affects our physiological functioning as well. There can be a decrease in appetite, restlessness, insomnia, headaches, stomachaches, fatigue and mental confusion.
William Worden (2002) identified four primary tasks of mourning. The first is to accept the reality of the loss. This is not as straight forward as it seems. The psychic response to being overwhelmed is to experience the overwhelming situation as “not real” or “this really didn’t happen.” Accepting the reality of the loss occurs over time and is much more difficult for someone who has experienced prior (unresolved) losses. Once the reality of the loss is accepted, there is a painful period of raw grief; the second task. This is pain that must be acknowledged and felt. It comes and goes in waves. The third task is to adjust to an environment where the loved one is missing. This is especially difficult when the loved one was an intense part of the mourner’s daily life. The final task identified by Worden is for the mourner to find a new normal in life. This requires finding a new way to relate with your loved one and incorporating the loss into your sense of self so that you can find a way to move on.
Grief counseling can also provide an opportunity to move from coping to being transformed by the loss.
Please feel free to contact me with any specific questions
or concerns you may have or to discuss ways I can help.
Sallie Norquist, PhD
Chaitanya Counseling Services
51 Newark Street, Suite 202
Hoboken, NJ 07030
Monday 9am to 5pm
Wednesday 9am to 5pm
Thursday 9am to 5pm
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