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The Bereavement Journey

It may bring some measure of comfort to know that you are not alone in your loss. Today, millions of people around the world are experiencing what is often called the grieving process. The culture they live in helps define their expectations for their bereavement journey.

In every case of loss, the fabric of life - the textured cloth that defines a family and a community - was torn by their passing. The ways that societies and cultures deal with the repair and re-strengthening of that fabric may differ in beliefs and practices but they share similar goals: to allow mourners to express their emotions while moving them, over time, to accept and adapt to the loss.

For example, the people living on Ifaluk, an atoll in Micronesia, believe that after a good cry, the bereaved will return to ordinary functioning. One is supposed to forget the person who died. In fact, continued grieving is seen as a failure and damaging to the equilibrium of this peaceful community where conflict, anger, and intense emotions are discouraged.

Compare that to Egypt, where a major loss will cause years of muted suffering and depression. Unlike Ifaluk residents, such intense expression of loss is considered normal and the social support given the Egyptian bereaved actively encourages suffering and dwelling on pain and gravity of the loss.

In our society, we have expectations of those who grieve the death of a loved one too. In fact, we tend to put pressure on those who mourn. Maria Kubitz wrote, "We live in a society so uncomfortable with emotional pain that when someone dies, society expects the outward mourning period to end once the funeral is over. When the bereaved do not cooperate with these prescribed time tables, they are often accused of 'wallowing' in their grief. They are indignantly told to 'move on' and 'get over it.'"

In the article Don't Rush Your Grief, we remind you that "Your grief is yours and no one else can know how long it should take; it's a time in your life to be honored and respected." However, we also want you to know there are signposts or points along the path you can use to mark your bereavement journey.

It was Bob Deits, author of Life after Loss: A Practical Guide to Renewing Your Life after Experiencing Major Loss, who offered his readers this set of milestones:

  • The Third Month: At this point, all shock and numbness is gone. "The full impact of the loss is upon you", shares Deits, and you may feel that this is truly "the bottom of the barrel." He continues, "Enough has happened by this time that denying your loss is impossible." He suggests that this may be the perfect time for you to write a letter of goodbye to your loved one. "Writing this letter is an act of lovingly releasing a part of your life that will always remain important to you in memory, but which you must now leave behind."
  • Six to Nine Months: This is when "you need to focus on the special relationship of your body and emotions", Deits tells readers. He strongly urges that you do two things: schedule a physical exam and join a grief support group. In effect, these actions care for both your body and your emotional well-being.
  • One Year: No one needs to mark the anniversary date of their loss on a wall calendar; we are keenly aware of the loss-related details including the date, time, and place. We can even remember the weather. "Most people," he writes, "find the anticipation of the one-year anniversary is more stressful than reaching the date itself. And, many...reach the anniversary date with a mixture of sadness and hope." He urges his readers to "take charge of this important day," and "look forward (to the future) with as much hope as you give to looking back in sorrow."
  • The Eighteenth Month: "This is the point," Deits shares, "at which you find out your grief work isn't finished. In fact, you may be sure that the rough patches are over, but one day you wake to find that you're right back where you started. Sadness returns. Tears flow like they did in the first weeks after your loss." However, it is important that you realize this return to sadness is expected and a sign of progress, not regression. He tells readers that it won't last long and "the best way to handle it is to do what you would do if the loss were a recent one."

Where are you along this path? Which signpost along the road are you approaching? As you near closer to it, remember that it represents nothing to be feared but rather it heralds "a time of discovering something new and being challenged to release a part of the past."

"Grief is as much about finding as it is about losing." It is not an illness but a process of recovering your balance after life has dealt you a major blow." ~ Bob Deits, Life after Loss