Handbook for Mortals : Enduring Loss : Living with loss of a loved one

Grief has its own timetable. In general, grief affects daily life for as long as a year. People often feel great sorrow from time to time for many years, but the time between surges usually lengthens as time goes on. There are few, if any, ways to shorten the period of mourning. Instead, people learn to live with their loss and, in doing so, live through their grief.

Often, one way to cope with loss is to talk to others who have experienced similar losses. Many hospitals and hospices offer grief and bereavement support groups that meet periodically for several months. There you can share experiences, thoughts, and memories. Somehow, the process of talking to others, and sometimes just helping others with their grief, can have a healing effect.

Programs are often tailored to meet specific losses. People whose children have died will have concerns that are quite different from those whose spouses or parents have died. Check that the group you join is likely to be comfortable for you.

A recent Gallup poll showed that people are most likely to turn to friends and family for support, although one-third turn to members of the clergy. Specially trained members of the clergy, called pastoral counselors, may be able to help you with the spiritual and emotional issues that accompany grief. If you are active in a faith community, your religious leader should be able to give you the names of pastoral counselors in your community. Pastoral counselors generally offer services according to a sliding-fee scale.

You may take comfort in:
  • Telling stories about your life
  • Participating in different forms of creative expression, such as art and music
  • Keeping a journal
  • Seeking spiritual or religious guidance and support
  • Sharing your spiritual journey with loved ones.

"There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. . . . Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me."

C. S. Lewis, from A Grief Observed

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Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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