Two Steps Forward … Three Steps Back

During a grief support group, a woman who had lost two brothers within a month of each other – one in a car accident, the other of a heart attack – expressed her frustration to the group, “I think I am doing okay and then I slide back.”

The group had been describing their grief journey, how long ago their loved one had dies, and their reactions to this loss – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They decided they wanted to know in what stage would the endless tears, loss of faith, sadness, overwhelming loneliness, and extreme exhaustion end. Illnesses are often explained in stages or phases. When the illness or disead is detected, the prognosis is labeled “stage 1” or “in the beginning phases.” We carry this measurement into grief. The stages of grief have become a part of our language and belief system. Our grief is thought of in terms of symptoms. We treat a symptom with medication, therapies and we monitor the symptom, giving it a rating, better or worse. The idea, of course is that we will get better and the symptom will go away.

Grief does not go away; there is not cure because it is not an illness or disease.

Grief is often described as a journey or a voyage. A journey that we have to take sooner or later if we have loved ones. This journey is on-going; there are no wrong turns. There are difficult passages and with time the road becomes smoother, the path easier to walk, and our steps more certain. There are times when we take two steps forward and three steps back. Much like those grief reactions, one day we smile and in the middle of the smile we begin to remember and the memory brings tears. We decide to stay home or decline invitations to meet with family for friends, because we need to find comfort.

In making this journey several grief theorists (J. William Worden, Alan Wolfelt and Theresa Rondo) have given us tasks to work through for a healthy grief journey.  These are not often easy.

  • First, acknowledge the reality of this death. This appears simple, but as we go through our day, we are reminded of that person, what roles they played in our life. Our head knows what our heart does not want to feel.
  • Next, embrace all the reactions to this death, anger, tearfulness, exhaustion – and know these are part of the journey and not a measure of grief. There is no measure to your loss. These reactions are not good or bad, they are part of the grief journey. Each one of us experiences these in different degrees and intensities.
  • Third, be willing to adjust to life without your loved one. We fight this leg of the journey; with every new task we take on that was theirs; we remember they are no longer here.
  • Fourth, reinvest in your life. Some call this a new “life” or a new “normal.” This task may take some time to begin and it is ongoing.
  • Next, remember you loved one – honestly – the good, the bad and the ugly. Honor all of them.
  • Invite others on this journey. Someone who has had a similar loss may be a good guide on this pathway.
  • Lastly, find times to honor your loved one – attend memorials or create spontaneous moments of remembrance. Look for what brings you comfort, peace and joy. Know that this will change as you travel on this journey.

By Valerie Sanchez, LCSW, CT, – Director of Bereavement