We concur with psychologist Robert Neimeyer, (a prominent grief researcher from the University of Memphis, Tennessee), who has conceptualized 5 major tasks of grieving:
- Acknowledge the reality of the loss.
- Open yourself to the pain.
- Revise your assumptive world.
- Reconstruct your relationship to that which has been lost.
- Reinvent yourself.
His primary belief is that the central process of grieving is the reconstruction of meaning in response to the loss.
Acknowledging the reality of the loss is a process that takes time…often more time than people imagine. While most of us grasp the cognitive concept of the loss in a relatively brief period of time, it can take up to a year (or more, depending upon the loss), to fully acknowledge the loss emotionally.
Many people are afraid to open themselves up to the pain…they feel it would mean they are “weak”, fear being overwhelmed, or just feel too vulnerable. Some people push the pain down, with food, drugs or alcohol, or staying busy. It is just that process, however, of allowing the pain to go through us, that helps us heal. Proust said “ We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.” Kahil Gibran noted that “suffering carves grooves in our hearts which later enable us to hold more joy.” Even though it may not feel like it when you are in it, the pain does soften and abate.
Revising your assumptive world means allowing this experience to help you see the lens of perception through which you have viewed the world. Losing a loved one initiates us into the reality that all relationships end, suffering is part of life, none of us are immune from pain, etc. This grief experience can usher in a sadder but wiser grasp of reality, and help us let go of naïve and idiosyncratic notions.
Reconstructing your relationship with that which has been lost is, in some ways, the meat of the grief experience. It entails examining the relationship, exploring what it was for us….what meaning did it have in our lives? What did the relationship teach us…about life, about ourselves? Processing grief means moving the relationship from outside us to inside us..where it continues to live and be explored. In coming to grips with what the relationship was for us, we often find it necessary to offer forgiveness, ask for forgiveness, or both.
Finally, reinventing ourselves means recommitting to being fully alive again, investing in ourselves and in our own lives. It means incorporating the insights gained into our lives, experiencing a sense of growth, transformation and transcendence.