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  • Bridget Friedman, LICSW

Navigating Bereavement


“Grief is the price we pay for love”.

Queen Elizabeth ll



This quote has always resonated with me. Grief can undoubtedly be one of the most painful of all human emotions. Anyone who has experienced deep grief can likely relate to how overwhelming and disorienting the grief experience can be. And yet, grief is also a testament to love. Without love, there would be no grief. And life without love is not a life that most of us would choose.


American culture in general is not well-versed in knowing how to cope with grief and loss. We are, by and large, grief and death avoidant. We don’t want to talk about death. We don’t know what to say to others when someone they love has died. Many of us even avoid basic preparation tasks such as writing a will or taking steps to document end of life medical instructions. It’s as if we believe that if we don’t acknowledge or talk about death, it won’t touch our lives. However, it is obvious that death and grief touch all of us at some point. There is no way to avoid this reality. Death (both our own and loved ones’) is a universal human experience.


So, what does a “healthy” grieving process look like? What is normal and expected when we lose a person whom we love? What can be helpful in the grieving process? There are no quick and easy answers to these questions because grief is neither quick nor easy. However, grief specialists do have some helpful ideas to share on this topic.


First of all, it is now widely agreed upon that there is no predictable set of stages that all grieving people pass through in a universal, sequential framework. Everyone’s grief is experienced differently. We do know that it takes time to heal, although the time frame for healing is different for each person and for each loss. There is no “right” way to grieve, and the process may look very different depending on the person. Some people find that grieving with others is most helpful, while others prefer to reflect in private. The grieving process can occur over months or years. Grief often comes in waves, feeling more intense around holidays, anniversaries, and important life events. Feelings of grief usually become less intense, and the waves are less overwhelming, with the passage of time.


The process of grieving is normal and adaptive in that it helps us to come to terms with and accept the loss and eventually to move forward in life. “Moving forward” does not mean forgetting our loved one or the life we shared. We will carry their memories and a “continuing bond” with the loved one even when they are no longer physically present. Moving forward does mean finding a new path forward that allows us to once again find meaning, purpose, and joy. Life will not be the same as before the loss and the path forward may be barely visible at first. This is usually not a path that we have freely chosen. The path is likely to include bumps, obstacles, and unexpected turns.


There are some common symptoms that many bereaved people feel, especially in the early stages of grieving. These symptoms are normal and very common. Many people notice that they feel exceptionally fatigued and have low energy. They may have difficulty sleeping. They may find that it is very challenging to focus and concentrate. Most people also experience a wide range of challenging and often intense emotions: anger, sadness, fear, confusion, loneliness, exhaustion, regret, overwhelm, relief, or disorientation. Again, there are no “right” emotions to feel. We feel what we feel.


The grief process in many cases can be complicated by the additional life changes that often take place when a central person in our life has died. On one level we are emotionally processing and adjusting to the loss of our loved one. On a second level, there may also be numerous additional life changes and stressors to which we need to adjust. These changes are called “secondary losses” and can also require a great deal of energy and time to navigate. Sometimes the death of a loved one also means the loss of financial security, the loss of a home, changes to our self-identity (for example, our identity as a parent or spouse), changes in friendships, family ruptures, etc.


When someone is in the midst of grief, it may feel like the world is out of control and there is nothing that can be done. However, there are things that people can do to support themselves or others through the grieving process:


1) Be kind to yourself. Nobody is able to function at their “best” during times of loss and stress. Take care of your physical needs for sleep, food, and rest. Try to get some physical movement and exercise if possible. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion for doing the best you can during a very difficult time.


2) Carve out some time for processing the loss. This can be done alone through spiritual reflection, meditation, or prayer. Talking with a friend or other loved one can be very helpful. Many people find journaling or art work (drawing, collaging, scrapbooking, etc) helpful in processing.


3) Seek and accept support from others. Often people want to help but don’t know what to do. If they offer specific help (mowing the yard, cooking, childcare, etc), consider accepting their offer. If they ask how they can help, tell them what you would find helpful and allow them to assist. Such acts can be beneficial for both you and the person offering the assistance.


4) Find ways to honor your ongoing relationship and “continuing bonds” with the deceased. There are innumerable ways to do this - going to a place that had a special meaning to you and your loved one, cooking a dish at holidays that they enjoyed, creating physical mementos such as scrapbooks or jewelry that reminds you of your loved one, keeping pictures or letters from the loved one, etc.


5) Many people find that participating in a bereavement support group is very helpful. Many hospice and other community programs offer these types of groups. Grief camps are also very helpful for children who have experienced a loss.


6) Talking to a therapist or a clergy person may be helpful, particularly if it feels that the feelings of grief are overwhelming or not improving with time.


My hope is that we as a society can improve in our ability to prepare for, navigate through, and support each other through grief. Death is one of the foundational experiences in life…..as is love. Learning how to navigate both is part of the essence of this human existence.


I have found the following two resources helpful:



Overcoming Grief: A Self-Help Guide using Cognitive-Behavioural Techniques by Sue Morris






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