Grief doesn’t just go away — it’s something you have to work through

By Saybrook University

450px-Rome_WWStory_angel_in_grief We’re used to tragedy.  Car accidents, cancer diagnoses, unexplained deaths – they happen every day.  

But are we any good at grieving? 

In an article in Natural News, Dr. Larry Malerba explores the correlation between unresolved grief and chronic illnesses. Entitled, Could Grief Be Causing Your Chronic Illness, Dr. Malerba looks at grief from a psychophysiological perspective exploring the grieving process as a normative human experience that has ravaging maladaptive physical and psychological effects if cut short. While complex, the grieving process over a tragic event or death is found to be most successful with individuals who possess a strong degree of psychological maturity, solid support systems, a sense of spirituality, and congruent emotional and cultural perspectives toward the grieving process. Conversely, Dr. Malerba asserts than unfinished or unprocessed grief has ravaging effects—often leading to a variety of chronic physical illnesses; namely: depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal issues, migraines—to name a few.

Essentially, unresolved anguish results in the “somaticization of emotional grief” and the experts at The Grief Recovery Institute have solutions to its perilous side effects.

Referred to as the action program for moving beyond loss, experts John James and Russell Friedman run an entire institution devoted to the process of grief—for all sorts of loss, pain and tragedy. In their work, grief is seen as a normative process; wherein forgiveness is seen as a central component towards the cessation of resentment for the person or thing responsible for the incident and accurate identification and emotional expression of the tremendous loss suffered by the person in grief. Power and healing are seen as resulting from the emotional grieving process in those suffering; not in the blame of those responsible.

In their work with individuals, groups and professional trainings, James and Friedman hold that the process of grief is different for each person; therefore stage theories do not serve in the facilitation of healing. For the grieving person or family, the “public” display of emotion is always different, with each person having a different “emotional value system.” Friedman and James focus their theory and work on completing the relationship or “unfinished business” with the person that has passed or the event that occurred. Contrary to public opinion, they assert that completing a relationship or a circumstance is possible with someone who is living or dead or a situation that is still occurring or no longer possible.

Both professionals hold that painful memories, avoidance of persons or situations related to the death or event are unsuccessful and result in a cycle of deep unresolved grief. Therefore, the grieving process involves catharsis and anguish where a “re-experiencing” of the loss occurs where unfulfilled dreams, hopes, and aspirations are worked through. This process is viewed through an empowering lens as it gives the grieving individual a way to complete the life or circumstance cut short by death or loss; where life-giving memories can exist alongside grief and deep pain.

In all the services and professionals trainings that James, Friedman and the institute conduct, they focus on “debunking” popular myths about grief. Namely, the old adages that suggest time heals wounds and that a person can “get over” a death or painful experience. James and Friedman object to the maxims saying it is grief work; a re-experiencing, a completion of the unfinished emotional experiences that heals wounds.

To spare oneself from grief at all costs can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness, the great Erich Fromm once said reminding all of the importance of working through grief; which is all to often a process of deeply entrenched pain.

 Fromm’s words remind us of the necessity of the grieving process when tragedy strikes—our very physical and psychological health depends on it.  

 — Liz Schreiber

Original photo by Raja Patnaik, post-processed and uploaded by Alessio Damato