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Grief Processing

If you have come to this page, you have lost a Loved One or ended a Significant Relationship. The purpose of this booklet is to help you understand the Grief Process and serve as a map to assist you to a positive outcome. You are not alone! You have experienced this Event as part of as part of a Family, among Friends and workmates, and while your Grief is individual, you are going to get through this as a Team.

Studies lead by George A. Bonanno, a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, have shown that the Grief Process is a normal human behavior, but that our societal norms for Grief, such as crying, are not a healthy expression of Grief. Most individuals can transit through the Grief process without crying.

Professor Bonanno’s findings of resilience in those dealing with Grief is based on rigorous science it is widely considered the standard in the field of grief and trauma. He has determined that there are four trajectories of grief, they are not theory. They are patterns of actual reactions of people who have suffered losses. The four trajectories are:

•  Resilience: “The ability of adults in otherwise normal circumstances who are exposed to an isolated and potentially highly disruptive event, such as the death of a close relation or a violent or life-threatening situation, to maintain relatively stable, healthy levels of psychological and physical functioning” as well as “the capacity for generative experiences and positive emotions.” (Reivich)

•  Recovery: When “normal functioning temporarily gives way to threshold or sub-threshold psychopathology (e.g., symptoms of depression or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)), usually for a period of at least several months, and then gradually returns to pre-event levels.”

•  Chronic dysfunction: Prolonged suffering and inability to function, usually lasting several years or longer.

•  Delayed grief or trauma: When adjustment seems normal but then distress and symptoms increase months later. Researchers have not found evidence of delayed grief, but delayed trauma appears to be a genuine phenomenon.

Professor Bonanno’s studies have also shown that the ‘emotional scars’ that one is supposed to carry after experiencing a loss, DO NOT OCCUR, normally. You are going to recover and get through this! Memories of the one you lost will one day bring a smile to your face.

Laughter is the Best Medicine – Referred to as ‘coping ugly’ because of the social stigma of laughing at loss. From a psychological standpoint, it is better to laugh than cry. Remember the laughter that the person brought to your life, have a good laugh at the happy memories and know that they would be laughing with you at the remembered event!

To better understand what you may be experiencing or how to understand what others are experiencing, it can be helpful to understand the psychology of dealing with the Death/Grief Process.

The Kübel-Ross Model explains the Five Stages of the Dying and Death/Grief Process; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

1. Denial is usually only a temporary emotional defense for the individual. The reality of what has occurred soon becomes obvious.

2. Anger – Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Resentment and anger toward the Loss event and those viewed as responsible may occur. This anger may also be focused inward if the individual feels responsible. “If only I have been there?”

3. Bargaining – The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. For those in the Grief Process this is expressed as “My life for theirs” or “Why couldn’t it have been me?’ and generally passes quickly.

4. Depression – During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This is the same in the Grief Process and is the most dangerous time for the individual. Isolation can lead to Catastrophizing (see below) and in turn clinical depression, thoughts of suicide and self-medication (see below).5. Acceptance – In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with his mortality or that of his loved one.

In the Grief Process, individuals will move back and forth through these Kübel-Ross Stages as they come to terms with the Loss, emotionally processing the Loss, until they have worked through it.

Some people have a simpler time and are naturally more resilient than others, bouncing back from emotional adversity and loss as the resilience tools are part of their character. Working knowledge of Resilience as a psychological tool is powerful in everyday life and not just for dealing with Grief Processing. 

The Key Principles of the Master Resilience Training are; Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Optimism, Mental Agility, Strengths of Character, & Connection.

Self-awareness is the ability to accurately identify one’s thoughts, emotions and behavior.

Fear – It may become a constant friend as a result of this experience. I have been visited by it myself on numerous occasions. Like the Grief process, the Fear will pass. DO NOT LET FEAR INFLUENCE OR STOP YOUR ACTION. A negative reaction to Fear, ‘freezing up’, making/not making decisions and inaction, can lead to additional Loss/Grief. Often times, just taking the next physical step is enough to overcome the Fear and get you moving in a positive direction both physically and mentally.

Self-regulation is the ability to express emotions appropriately, stop counter-productive thinking, and regulate impulses, emotions and behaviors in order to achieve goals.

Mindful Breathing for quick recovery

–                   Increase focused attention

–                   Increase non-judgmental acceptancePractice Mindful Breathing – Slow, deliberate breathing, focusing on breathing.

Optimism

Hunt the Good Stuff – If you don’t already do this, at the end of each day, think of three things about that day that you are grateful for. At this point in your life, start writing them down! When you wake, review the list and make a great start to the coming day!

Put It In Perspective

            Avoid Catastrophizing

            Catastrophizing is when you waste critical energy ruminating about the irrational worst case outcomes of a situation. Catastrophizing is a downward spiral creating anxiety, decreasing focus and increasing helplessness.

To Put It In Perspective

            List the Worst Case outcomes, write a list of cause and effect bad things as a result of your loss, to the point it makes you laugh! The idea being to make the list ridiculous in its outcome. (Could lead to the end of the World through a silly chain of events)

            List the Best Case outcomes, this list too should be written out to its ridiculous conclusion. (Could lead to you becoming the King or Queen of Spain)

            List the Most Likely outcomes, is a list of what will probably occur. You will grieve, go on with your life and honor the memory of those Lost.

            Identify the Plan for dealing with the Most Likely outcome.

Mental Agility

Avoid Thinking Traps, these are common patterns of thinking that undermine effective communications. Thinking Traps can be avoided by asking the corresponding Critical Question.

Jumping to Conclusions: Believing one is certain about a situation with little or no evidence to support it. Critical Question: Slow down, what is the evidence?

Mind Reading: Assuming you know what the other person is thinking or expecting the other person to know what you are thinking. Critical Question: Speak up: Did I express myself? Did I ask for information from the other person?

Me, Me, Me: Believing that you are the sole cause of every problem that you encounter. Critical Question: How did others and/or circumstances contribute?

Them, Them, Them: Believing that other people or circumstances are the cause of every problem you encounter. Critical Question: Look inward: How did I contribute?

Always, Always, Always: Believing that negative events are unchangeable and you have little or no control over them. Critical Question: Grab control: What is changeable? What can I control?

Character Assassination: Believing that you can judge a person’s or your own worth, motivation, or ability on the basis of a single situation. Critical Question: Look at behavior: What is the specific behavior that explains the situation?

Strengths of CharacterForgiveness – Forgive yourself – Guilt, real or imagined, often accompanies the Grief Process. Your actions alone did not cause the events that lead to the Loss. You should let go of any guilt that you are feeling and forgive yourself. You should also forgive those around you that you may view as having contributed to the Loss. If you don’t, it will turn into anger and resentment that will serve no purpose, but to prevent your progress in the Grief Process.

Connection

Together – It is the unique situation when one experiences a loss alone. Families experience loss together and in the military, we are part of numerous teams and loss is not experienced alone. This is the key to Emotionally Processing the Loss. Family and Team Members should assist one another by ensuring that no individual is isolated or isolates themselves in their Grief. The extended family or team should take meals together, watch movies together, but avoid forcing individuals to talk about their experience and grief. Individuals will talk if they feel the need and leaders or family members have provided a comfortable environment where they can speak about their Grief.

Self-Medication is a term used to describe the abuse of drugs, both legal and illegal, to include alcohol that an individual abuses, to make the “pain go away”.  Sometimes, if the individual understands that they are self-medicating, it is enough to stop the behavior. But if understanding is not enough, seek Professional Help.To the Counselor – Don’t try to counsel, it has been shown that Grief Counseling does more damage than good for the majority of people. Only about 15% of those experiencing a loss require counseling. The rest may just need a guide or a map, which is the intent of this booklet. Don’t ask people to cry, it has been shown to increase the anxiety associated with the Grief Process. (Bonanno)

Honor the Memory  

Remember what that person brought to your life. If you had made plans with the individual that is no longer here, continue with those plans as best you can. Celebrate the ideas of an adventure that was planned, because that is what that person would want you to do. Those that have passed on, would want nothing more than for those around them to keep living life and not be consumed by Grief. Honor their memory by living out those plans and dreams as part of a full life.

The Memorial Service – Serves as a safe place to expression emotions with regard to the grieving process. Often times, the memorial will not reflect the desires of those lost, remember that the service is for those still living. Don’t be upset by those in Grief, but don’t take abuse either.

Grief is a normal preconditioned psychological event tied to Loss. Understanding the emotional aspects can help you and those around you, in order to get through the Process of Grieving.

The Grief Process discussed here can also be applied to the Loss of a personal relationship, Divorce and emotional breaking up.

Think you need more help? See a Professional Counselor, Religious Leader

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

1-800-273-8255

Grief Processing©, Version 5, 2021, Floyd Getchell

Citations

Bonanno, George A., Clinical Psychology at Columbia University 

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth, On Death and Dying, 1969

Reivich, Karen & Shatté, Andrew, The Resilience Factor, Harmony, New York, New York, 2002

Stix, Gary, The Neuroscience of True Grit, Scientific American. March 2011

U.S. Army Master Resilience Training Program 

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