Chemical Addiction or Other Compulsive Behaviors -- Human Connections Counseling Services, Plano and Dallas, Texas Stages of Grief & Mourning - Healing the Heart of Grief with Grief Therapy - Human Connections Counseling Services, Plano and Dallas, Texas
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Specialty Issues:

Healing the Heart of Grief

The Four Stages of Grief

~ Developed by John Bowlby, M.D.

When someone close to us dies, grief grabs us by the throat and shatters our world into a million pieces. Some days it numbs us to the bone and turns us into walking zombies. Other days it pierces our hearts and forces a scream so loud it scares us into silence. Often in our society, painful losses go ungrieved. A divorce, a job, our youth, an empty nest, even our own painful childhoods are never grieved because we believe we must get on with life. We believe we have no right to mourn the loss of an alcoholic parent or an abusive spouse. We may experience deep sorrow for the family we never really had or the siblings we did not connect with. But these losses need to be grieved before we can heal and move forward. In coming to grips with any type of loss we must pass through the Four Stages of Grief. We must move through them all, sometimes more than once, if we are to come out of the tunnel of loss, whole again.

Stage 1: Numbness

  • The loss comes as such a shock, it seems impossible to accept what has happened.
  • When the shock starts to wear off, the horror of reality steps in.
  • We find ourselves longing for the way things used to be.
  • Some days we appear normal on the outside because we do no grieve outwardly.
Consequences of Not Working Through This Stage:
We shut down, we cannot identify what we feel or communicate it to another person.

Stage 2: Yearning and Searching

  • The future we envisioned is gone, along with our expectations for the life we planned.
  • Often the very person that we rely on, the one we turn to for comfort is now gone and we have no one to comfort us.
  • We continue to identify with the person we have lost.
  • We don't know what to do with the void created by the loss.
Consequences of Not Working Through This Stage:
We spend our lives searching to replace what we have lost and looking for love.

Stage 3: Disorganization and Despair

  • Life is no longer the same; everything has changed.
  • We feel angry; life seems unfair and we fear nothing will ever be good again.
  • We ask "why" and "what if."
  • As one father put it "this is the bleeding stage of grief."
Consequences of Not Working Through This Stage:
We may have inappropriate displays of anger, or turn our anger inward and become depressed. We may develop a negative attitude toward life.

Stage 4: Reorganization

  • You begin to adapt and rebuild your inner world.
  • Step by step you begin to trust again.
  • Your faith in life's ability to renew and repair itself is restored.
Consequences of Not Working Through this Stage:
The loss does not get fully resolved. Personal history is lost and old losses are banished to hidden regions of the mind and heart. What was bad does not get released and what was good does not get preserved.

* Adapted from Tian Dayton, Ph.D.

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The Four Tasks of Grief and Mourning

~ Adapted from William Worden Ph.D.

When someone we love dies or when we experience any type of loss, such as that of a marriage, job or pet, we do indeed have our grief work cut out for us. And make no mistake, grieving is one of the hardest jobs we will ever tackle. Grief will not go away on its own. We can try to ignore it, but grief is a stubborn companion. In the end, we must complete the Four Tasks of Mourning to finish the normal grieving process and heal a broken heart.

Task 1: To Accept the Reality of the Loss

  • The first task is to face the reality that the person is gone.
  • Even if the death is expected, there's a sense that it didn't happen.
  • We must accept intellectually and emotionally that the loss is irreversible.
  • Rituals, such as funerals, help us accept that death is real.

Task 2: To Work Through the Pain of Grief

  • Not everyone experiences the pain of loss the same.
  • It is important to work through the pain or it will make itself known through physical problems.
  • Family and friends may be uncomfortable and try to rush this task or deny it.
  • Mourners may use alcohol or drugs, idealize the deceased, move away or jump into a relationship in an effort to skip this task.
  • No matter what we do to avoid the pain, it will return if not worked through.

Task 3: To adjust to an Environment in Which the Deceased is Missing

  • It takes time to get used to living with a spouse or loved one.
  • It is common to resent having to take on new roles or perform new tasks that a partner did.
  • Trying to take on the deceased's role may fail and lead to lower self-esteem.
  • We search for meaning in the loss.
  • It is during this task that we try to regain some sense of control over life.

Task 4: To Emotionally Relocate the Deceased and Move on With Life

  • We must find a way to invest emotionally in someone or something else.
  • Holding on to the lost loved one hinders this task.
  • Some people find the loss so painful that they decide not to love again.
  • In some cases, it is as if life stops with the death and we are never able to move forward.

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Danger Signs: When It's More Than Normal Grief

~ Adapted from J. Shep Jeffreys, Ed.D.

How do we know when grief has slipped beyond the sadness that defines normal grieving? Grieving never moves in a straight line. It comes in waves, knocking us off our feet some days, barely lapping at our ankles on others. It can be confusing. But when the bad times outnumber the good and it seems as if relief will never arrive, our mourning process is stuck and we may need grief therapy to guide us out of these turbulent waters. Here are some signs to watch for:

1. Emotional Signals

  • Continued irritability or outbursts of rage
  • Deep feelings of guilt, regrets
  • Episodes of severe yearning and pining
  • Deep depression and inability to function in daily life

2. Cognitive Signals

  • Suicidal thoughts or plans to act upon them
  • Inability to concentrate or learn new information
  • Intrusive, distressing memories
  • Feeling stunned, dazed and disoriented

3. Behavioral Signals

  • Self-cutting, substance abuse, workplace failure
  • Imitating the speech, dress and behaviors of the lost person
  • Engaging in compulsive post-lost care giving
  • Radical and sudden lifestyle changes

4. Physical Signals

  • Physical symptoms that imitate those of the deceased
  • Chronic complaints such as headaches and gastrointestinal problems
  • Major disturbances in sleeping and eating

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Characteristics of Clients who Succeed in Grief Therapy

~ Tian Dayton, Ph.D.

Everyone faces problems in life and grief is very much a part of living. Grief allows the wound to heal and if we don't grieve we build walls around the wound to protect it. Grief is necessary in order to release the anger that arises when we lose something or someone important to us, so that we can risk loving again or becoming attached in life. Some people are better able to move through a loss and experience it fully so they can go on with their lives. Those who succeed in grief therapy share common characteristics.

  • They are able to self-reflect — that is look at their own thinking, feeling and behavior with enough emotional distance to see themselves realistically.
  • They take their own good advice and live by it rather than digging trenches, then sitting in and defending it.
  • They identify what they are feeling and articulate it to themselves and others, which gives them the ability to face pain and loss.
  • They identify their issues and live with a realistic view of themselves and when life hurts they are able to own their issues.
  • They cope with loss by calling it by its correct name and moving through the emotional turmoil of the grieving process.
  • They separate the past from the present, which allows them to live in today without sabotaging it with unfinished business from the past.
  • They find meaning and purpose in their struggle, which is how spiritual transformation and growth, takes place.
  • They use life struggles not only to get through, but also to grow, thus deepening and strengthening their relationship with life, self and others.

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We've all been there. The numbness, the shock, the anger that is all a part of grief. The death of a loved one is a major emotional loss that we all face at some time during our lives. Those we love become seriously ill and die. Or the death comes out of the blue when a spouse is in a car accident or has heart attack. Suddenly grief grabs us by the throat and won't let go.

Here are some common pitfalls to avoid while you're grieving a loss. Put check marks by anything in this list that you find yourself violating.

___ Don't withdraw totally from life and your friends.
___ Don't deny or suppress your feelings of grief.
___ Don't back away from new relationships.
___ Don't put yourself down for feeling vulnerable.
___ Don't be surprised if you experience sudden physical problems.
___ Don't dwell on the unfairness of your loss.
___ Don't base new relationships entirely on trying to please the other person.
___ Don't rush into remarriage.
___ Don't get too upset when people say either nothing or "the wrong" thing to you about your loss. Their hearts are right, but their judgment is faulty.
___ Don't feel guilty about sometimes being away from your children.

(David C. Cook Publishing Company, Elgin, IL)

Whether the loss is sudden or you have had months to prepare for it, you will undoubtedly be hit hard by grief.

Coping with the loss of a loved one is a difficult part of living, but it is something most of us will go through at some point in our lives.

While you never stop missing someone you have loved, with time the pain becomes less intense and you are able to join the world again. But getting there is never easy.

Mourning is a natural process that we must go through on our way to recovering from a terrible loss in life.

For some people, mourning may include religious ceremonies, a funeral or some other way people share the loss you are experiencing.

There is no time table for mourning. Everyone experiences it at their own pace. But there are stages of the grief process that most people go through. Not everyone experiences these stages in the same order. Many people may repeat a stage before finally moving toward acceptance of a loss. Some people will skip one stage then come back and experience it much later. For others, one stage of grief may be so painful it seems as if they'll never move through it, that they'll be stuck in their grief forever. Others may have an easier time dealing with one stage of the grief process only to be paralyzed with sadness at a later stage.

Whatever path your grief takes, it is all a normal part of the healing process. Here's what you can expect during the grief process:

    • Stage One - Denial. "The doctors made a mistake. It simply cannot be true that Mom has three months to live."

    • Stage Two - Shock. You're in a daze. It's as if your mind cannot grasp the reality of the moment.

    • Stage Three - The Grief Fog. The numbness of shock has faded away but now you have moments of sadness and hopelessness. Reality smacks you in the face. You ask why. Why me? Why now? Why did this happen to her?

    • Stage Four - The Hard Times. You're exhausted. Grieving is such hard work. Feelings of anger, guilt and fear take over. The death was all your fault. You question why you're not stronger. You second guess yourself, wondering what you could have done differently.

    • Stage Five - Healing. At last, some relief. Finally you have moments, however brief, when you feel like your old self. You can actually let go of the past and start to carve out a new life. Your loss is never forgotten but you have found a way to make it fit into your life.

    • Stage Six - New Beginnings. Life starts to make sense to you. Out of the confusion and pain, a new way of living emerges. You have survived. You are a new person.

    • Stage Seven - Living. You have been through so much to reach this point. Now you're ready to reenter the world a new person. Sure, there will be moments when a song on the radio or the glimpse of a stranger in the grocery store will remind you of your loved one, but the horrible pain has been replaced with acceptance. You have started to live again.

Grief goes at its own pace, sometimes flowing gently like a river other times gushing over you like a waterfall. But in the end, it changes all of us and teaches us invaluable lessons about ourselves.

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Grief Quotations for Your Sorrows

Upon her face there was a tint of grief,
The settled shadow of an inward strife;
And an unquiet drooping of the eye,
As if its lid were charged with unshed tears.
  ~ Lord Bryon

Tearless grief bleeds inwardly.
  ~ Christian Nestell Bovee

Suppressed grief suffocates, it rages within the breast, and is forced to multiply in strength.
  ~ Ovid

My grief lies all within, And these external manners of lament are merely shadows to the unseen grief That swells with silence in the tortured soul.
  ~ William Shakespeare

If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.
  ~ Moliere

There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.
  ~ Henry Wordsworth Longfellow

The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves.
  ~ Sophocles

The dark today leads into light tomorrow,
There is no endless joy,
...and yet no endless sorrow.
  ~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox

To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be
achieved only at the price of detachment, which
excludes the ability to experience happiness.
  ~ Erich Fromm

He that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it.
  ~ Turkish Proverb

Where grief is fresh, any attempt to divert it only irritates.
  ~ Samuel Johnson

You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms to full to embrace the present.
  ~ Jan Glidewell

The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep.
  ~ Henry Maudsley

Tears are the silent language of grief.
  ~ Voltaire

As warmth makes even glaciers trickle, and opens streams in the ribs of frozen mountains, so the heart knows the full flow and life of its grief only when it begins to melt and pass away.
  ~ Henry Ward Beecher

The only cure for grief is action.
  ~ George Henry Lewes

Some are able to release grief far more quickly than others. However long it takes, it is always the re-connection with the power of the heart that moves you past grief. When the heart is enlivened again, it feels like the sun coming out after a week of rainy days. There is hope in the heart that chases the clouds away. Hope is a higher heart frequency and as you begin to reconnect with your heart, hope is waiting to show you new possibilities and arrest the downward spiral of grief and loneliness. It becomes a matter of how soon you want the sun to shine. Listening to the still, small voice in your heart will make hope into a reality.
  ~ Sara Paddison, Hidden Power of the Heart

When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be-I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
  ~ Wendell Berry

LIFE is a mosaic of pleasure and pain-grief is an interval between two moments of joy. Peace is the interlude between two wars. You have no rose without a thorn, the diligent picker will avoid the pricks and gather the flower. There is no bee without the sting, cleverness consists in gathering honey nevertheless.
  ~ Sri Sathya Sai Baba

There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love.
  ~ Washington Irving

There are places in the heart that do not yet exist;
suffering has to enter in for them to come to be.
  ~ Leon Bloy

Sorrow makes us all children again—destroys all
differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing.
  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing.
  ~ Robert Ingersoll

Our sweetest songs are those that tell our saddest thought. The pain passes but the beauty remains.
  ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley and sorrow are inseparable...together they come and when one sits alone with you...remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
  ~ Kahill Gibran

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
  ~ Kahill Gibran

Grief knits two hearts in closer bonds than happiness ever can; and common sufferings are far stronger links than common joys.
  ~ Alphonse de Lamartine

For each thorn, there's a rosebud...
for each twilight-a dawn...
for each trial-the strength to carry on,
For each stormcloud-a rainbow...
for each shadow-the sun...
for each parting-sweet memories
when sorrow is done.   ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Like a bird
Singing in the rain,
Let grateful memories
Survive in time of sorrow.
  ~ Robert Lewis Stevenson

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing...not healing, not curing-that is a friend who cares.
  ~ Henri Nouwen

Love is a fabric which never fades, no matter how often it is washed in the water of adversity and grief.
  ~ Robert Fulghum

At different states in our lives, the signs of love may vary, dependence, attraction, contentment, worry, loyalty, grief, but at the heart, the source is always the same. Human beings have the rare capacity to connect with each other, against all odds.
  ~ Robert Fulghum

Can I see another's woe, and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another's grief and not seek for kind relief?
  ~ William Blake

The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief.
But the pain of grief
Is only a shadow
When compared with the pain
Of never risking love.
  ~ Hilary Stanton Zunin

Beauty is ever to the lonely mind a shadow fleeting:
she is never plain. She is a visitor who leaves behind
the gift of grief, the souvenir of pain.
  ~ Christopher Morley

There are things that we don't want to happen but have to accept, things we don't want to know but have to learn, and people we can't live without but have to let go.
  ~ Author Unknown

The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost.
  ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer of her thoughts.
  ~ George Eliot

Those things that hurt, instruct.
  ~ Benjamin Franklin

Grief is itself a medicine.
  ~ William Cowper

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