HOW WILL I HEAL?
THE MOURNER'S SIX CENTRAL NEEDS

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Grief educator and author of Understanding Grief:
Helping Yourself Heal and Creating Meaningful Funeral Ceremonies

Your grief journey will not be quick and easy. Often it will feel like you are moving backwards, not ahead. But to reconcile your grief, you must ultimately move forward as you work on meeting the following six needs:

  • Need 1. Acknowledge the reality of the death. Whether the death was sudden or anticipated, acknowledging the full reality of the loss may take weeks or months. You may move back and forth between protesting and encountering the reality of the death. You may discover yourself replaying events surrounding the death and confronting memories, both good and bad. It's as if each time you talk it out, the event is a little more real.

  • Need 2. Move toward the pain of the loss. Expressing your thoughts and feelings about the death with all of their intensity is a difficult but important need. You will probably discover that you need to "dose" yourself when experiencing your pain. In other words, you cannot, nor should you try, to do this all at once.

  • Need 3. Continue the relationship with the person who died through memory. Embracing your memories - both happy and sad - can be a very slow and, at times, painful process that occurs in small steps. But remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible.

  • Need 4. Develop a new self-identity. Part of your self-identity comes from the relationships you have created with other people. When someone with whom you have a relationship dies, your self-identity naturally changes. Many people discover that as they move forward in their grief journeys, they ultimately find that some aspects of their self-identities have been positively changed. You may feel more confident, for example, or more open to life's challenges.

  • Need 5. Search for meaning. When someone loved dies, you naturally question the meaning and purpose of life. Coming to terms with those questions is another need you must meet if you are to progress in your grief journey. Move at your own pace as you recognize that allowing yourself to hurt and find ongoing meaning in your life will blend into each other, with the latter overtaking the former as healing occurs.

  • Need 6. Continue to receive support from others. You will never stop needing the love and support of others because you never "get over" your grief. As you learn to reconcile your grief, you will need help less intensely and less often, but you will always need your friends and family members to listen and support you in your continuing grief journey. Support groups can be another long-term helping resource.

RECONCILING YOUR GRIEF

You may have heard that your grief journey's end will come when you resolve, or recover from, your grief. But your journey will never end. People do not "get over" grief.

Reconciliation is a term I find more appropriate for what occurs as the mourner works to integrate the new reality of moving forward in life without the physical presence of the person who died. With reconciliation comes a renewed sense of energy and confidence, an ability to fully acknowledge the reality of the death and a capacity to become reinvolved in the acitivies of living.

In reconciliation, the sharp, ever-present pain of grief gives rise to a renewed sense of meaning and purpose. Your feeling of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent. Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future, realizing that the person who died will never be forgotten, yet knowing that your life can and will move forward.


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