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Grieving and Healing: 5 Steps to Help You Through the Grieving Process

How to work through grieving and begin to enjoy life again

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Mature man paying respects at tombstone
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At some point in life, everyone loses someone they feel especially close to and we enter into grieving. The loved one can be a parent, child, spouse, dear friend, or even a beloved companion animal.

The grieving that follows a loss is real, and can be very painful.

While it may be tempting to deny grieving in an attempt to avoid the pain, it's much healthier to accept those feelings of pain and loss, and to work through the grieving process in an intentional way.

In his book, "Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, Second Edition" (Springer, 1991), J. William Worden, PhD, describes what he calls "The Four Tasks of Mourning." These tasks can be the means by which a healthy person works through the pain of grieving for a loved one, and moves into the next phase of life.

In my practice as a therapist, I have counseled many people who lost a loved one and worked through the grieving process. Combining my own experience with clients and Worden's work, here are five steps that can help you get through grieving in a healthy way.

    1. Learn to accept that your loss is real.
    For many people who are grieving a loss, the first impulse is to deny the loss. Grieving denial can range from downplaying the loss, as if it's not important, to having the delusion that the person or pet is still alive.

    It's often easier for people who are greiving to have an intellectual understanding of the death (the person or pet is physically gone) than an emotional understanding (the loved one is not coming back). So the first task for the grieving person is accepting that the loved one is really gone.

    2. Make it OK to feel the pain.
    The pain of grieving can be both emotional and physical, and unfortunately there's no way to avoid it. Denying the pain of grieving can lead to physical symptoms and can also prolong the grieving process.

    Some people try to avoid grieving pain by being busy or traveling; others try to minimize grieving their loss by idealizing the loved one or refusing to allow negative thoughts about the loved one enter their minds. Some grieving people use drugs or alcohol to deaden the pain.

    Feeling the pain of grieving is difficult, but it's an important step toward healing.

In Part 2, learn more about healing through the grieving process, and what you can do with the feelings of love that you hold for the deceased.

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