Grief as a Medicine

James Miller PhD Bereavement Coordinator

James Miller PhD
Bereavement Coordinator
Central New Hampshire VNA & Hospice

While grief is a feeling with which most of us are familiar, it can manifest itself in many different ways. Some of us tend to equate grief with sadness but others experience much more than sadness as a result of grief. Many persons report feelings of anger, guilt, resentment, loneliness, fear, anxiety, panic, relief, etc. as a component of grief. However grief is experienced, there seems to be a commonly-held belief among bereavement counselors that what is most important is to recognize, express and eventually accept the various components of grief. Indeed, “grief is itself a medicine (William Cowper) that needs to be experienced in order to release its healing qualities.
Unlike many unpleasant feelings with which we struggle, grief is better embraced than escaped. “The difference between grief and joy is what we do with them. Grief we push away. Joy we try to hold on to. When we refuse our grief, it stays. When we try to control our joy, it leaves. That’s the way these processes are” (Anne Wilson Schaef). Thus, we are encouraged not to refuse our grief but rather to embrace it with all its challenges and complexities.
In addition to being painful, grief also may be complicated and contain feelings which we believe “we should not have.” Our culture may convey the message that we should not be angry at someone who just died or we should not feel relieved that we no longer have to care for someone. There can be many “unresolved” issues with the person who died or in some way left our life. As with the painful feelings associated with grief, we also must be willing to acknowledge the “unresolved” aspects of grief and attempt to reach acceptance even without total resolution.
Another aspect of grief that sometimes can be overlooked is what we might call the “cumulative” impact of loss. People frequently report that after a loss they re-experience previous losses and thus feel more grief than they might anticipate due to this cumulative impact. This is especially true when prior losses have not be adequately grieved and/or the individual has not yet reached a place of peace/acceptance with prior losses.

Finally, we must realize that grief can and often does challenge our sense of who were are or how we create meaning. If we identify with a person or with our role in that person’s life–wife, husband, child, parent, friend, etc., then our identity and/or sense of purpose is challenged when that person dies or leaves our life. Grief can exist not only as a result of death, but also as result of losing someone or something that has been important to us, such as through divorce or loss of employment, health, independence, etc. It seems significant to associate grief not only with death but also with loss in general in order to fully understand its impact.
For a variety of reasons many of us would rather avoid than embrace grief. However, as stated earlier, grief can be its own medicine that must be expressed in order for it to heal. However expressed, be it through talking, writing, creating, exercising, crying, etc., it is important to somehow express our grief in order to release its healing power.

About the Author:

James Miller is the Bereavement Coordinator for Central New Hampshire VNA & Hospice.  Working directly with clients and their families James also hosts a number of community support groups. Upcoming events include a 90 minute information & support meeting regarding grief during the holidays at the following locations and times:

  • November 18th from 5:30 – 7:00 PM and December 16th from 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM in the Library Room at All Saints Episcopal Church, 258 S. Main Street in Wolfeboro, NH.
  • December 9th from 6:00 – 7:30 PM in the Conference Room, Central NH VNA & Hospice, 780 N. Main Street in Laconia, NH.

The purpose of the meeting is to help individuals who have lost a loved one find ways to cope with their grief during the holidays.

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