Whether you have actual or existential survivor’s guilt, it usually comes in the form of a question like, “Why am I allowed to live while the person who died does not?” It’s a fair question, but the tendency is to stop there. To just live with the question and let it haunt you and torment you is not fair.Some will punish themselves with it for the rest of their lives. That’s really sad and no way to live or honor the person that died. The more courageous challenge is to actually answer the question.
External adjustments are the actual physical things that you have to do now that the death has happened that you didn't have to do before.At first you are confronted the horrifying truth of that the death has occurred and in if that wasn't cruel enough, now you have to go and do a lot of shit. If you are the parent, spouse, or adult sibling you will be making a lot of decisions and plans. This includes things like calling the ambulance; going down to the hospital; calling the funeral home; writing the obituary, choosing a casket; discussing with family members how to carry the wishes of the person who died; burial or cremation arrangements; memorial service or funeral including and who will do what and speak etc.), delivering the eulogy, dealing with the insurance company and the bank, getting the will and the estate taken care of. This would all be a nightmare if you had boundless energy, but Jesus, you are in THE WORST PAIN OF YOUR LIFE.
This is Part 2 of a 6 Part Series on the Tasks of Mourning by J. William Worden. But don't worry, this doesn't mean YOU have to think about DOING the tasks. I believe that your psychological immune system is already hard at work doing these tasks.Task II: To Process the Pain of Grief
If I were to ask you to show me a picture of someone processing the pain of grief, my guess is that you show me a picture of a woman crying. Don't feel bad because this stereotype was socialized into you. This is why you are out there on your own right now, because our society didn't teach you shit about who grieves (everyone does except sociopaths - even some animals grieve) and how grief impacts us.
This is Part 1 of a 6 Part Series on the Tasks of Mourning by J. William Worden. But don't worry, this doesn't mean YOU have to do more work. I believe that your psychological immune system is already hard at work doing these tasks without your help. (Disclaimer: That is not how Dr. Worden presents them, it's how I think of them!!).Task I: Accepting the Reality of the Loss
It seems straight forward, right? You know he's dead or you were with her when she died. But even when it happens and you witness it with your own eyes, there is this weird feeling like it didn't happen. That truth that he or she actually died is so shocking to our system that our psyche has a hard time making it real.
You really, really don't need to worry about how you're grieving. You can't get it wrong. Grief is simply your reaction to your loss. Let's say that one more time. Grief is your reaction to your loss. What does that mean?1. Grief is Your Reaction
It means that you don't need to give a fuck about what anyone else thinks about how you are grieving. Are they obsessed about your reaction to the last movie you saw? How about to your reaction last birthday? I know these are ridiculous questions, but what I'm trying to help you see is that grief is your personal reaction or response and no one else in the world will have that exact response because it's yours and yours alone. Grief is a ongoing and evolving personal experience not an event or a thing that is predictable or that someone can judge any more than they should judge your personal experience of the steak you ate last night.
Some think the sickness, accident, death or trauma was the most challenging part. Others might think the grieving and living without him or her is. Who are we kidding? It's all a complete and total nightmare. But, what's interesting is somehow we know how to survive the worst. We instinctively know how to dig in deep and just fucking get through it. We know how to shut down if we need to and we have our lifelong coping mechanisms. We all have our own ways of zoning out avoiding our feelings and the terrifying reality of our situation. But learning how to live just might be the most challenging part.
That resonates doesn't it? Yet, we've been told to move on and to get over it and worst of all "get closure" (as if that was a thing). We've been fed lies. And in our vulnerable and hurt state, believed them. But, I'm going to tell you the truth. You Will Never Get Over It. The reason this resonates with you is because truth resonates.
Now, let me tell you why you will never get over it. It’s because you are not a computer with a freaking delete key, that's why. But, let's take it deeper than that, how can you ever get over having a mother or father? How can you move on from having a child or a spouse or a brother or sister? You can’t. It doesn’t even make any sense. Our relationships make us who we are and when they die, they don’t take that part of us with them (Hedke & Winslade, 2004).
Most therapists don't get any training on the psychology of grief and loss while they are learning to become counselors, yet almost all therapist list grief as service they provide clients and I think that's misleading. While they may be experienced in comforting you while you're in pain, I'm thinking you might want a bit more that that because a safe friend and confidant can do that and she will do it for free.
Grieving takes a tremendous amount of energy, especially during that first eighteen months. I am constantly reminding my grieving clients that their psyches are working really hard because they have a tendency to forget the simple notion that the act of grieving is hard, exhausting work.
I often hear people qualify their days after experiencing a death or other loss as good or bad based on whether or not they cried with the crying days being the "bad" ones. I don't look at it that way. I see crying a good and positive thing and a healthy person's response to emotional pain as well as a necessary part of the grieving process*.
One of the feelings that I find difficult to explain to my clients is the sense of “feeling little” following a devastating loss. This is the “childlike terror” mention in the quote – it’s like we struggle to stay our adult selves – we feel lost and alone. We feel scared.
One of the comforting things about being human is that we are both completely unique AND quite the same. This is true with physiological processes (like a physical wound) and emotional processes (such as grieving).