The Caregiver's Soapbox

Volume 17    www. thedead-beat.com    Issue 5

Ken Doka     Ken Doka

Strategies for Growing in Grief  

You can do more than just cope with loss.  There are ways to even grow from grief and tragedy.  These six principles can help you grow as you journey with your grief.

Build on your strengths.  Look back at previous crises or losses.  What strategies helped you then?  They can be helpful now.  Sometimes you may have to reframe them.  For example, one woman told me that her spouse had helped her through the loss of a parent.  But now she had to deal with the death of her husband alone.  She realized, though, what helped was having someone to talk with as she coped.  She found that she could find such a confidant in a close friend.

Your spirituality or philosophy also can be a great strength.  Most spirituality and philosophies address loss and suffering.  Ask yourself, how do my beliefs help me as I face this loss?  Talk to those who share your beliefs.

Use your support systems.  Your family, friends, co-workers and others can be of great help.  Recognize their unique gifts.  Some may be good listeners while others are good at helping in more tangible ways.  Grief is hard work, and we may need time off from our grief.  Some friends offer respite.

You can also find support in others who have had similar experiences.  Grief groups offer validation of your reactions, strategies for coping, and hope.  Moreover, as you help others through participation in a support group, you become more aware of your own strengths.

Remember the continuing bond.  The people you love never fully leave you.  You retain a bond with them through your memories, and the ways they affected your development.  Think of the legacies they left you.

Focus on positive memories.  Sometimes it helps to have something to reinforce those memories such as creating a photograph album or a journal, to keep those memories alive.

Use empowering language.  If you focus on the tragedy of loss, you reinforce the tragic.  Instead, focus on positive language, such as the courage you will need to meet the challenges of loss.  Recognize that you make choices on how you cope with your grief.  Learn from the decisions you make.  Even small choices reinforce your ability to cope as you journey with loss.

Focus on growth.  Periodically review how you have changed as you journey with grief.  What new insights have you developed?  What skills have you gained?

Be patient with yourself.  The journey with grief is uneven as you both cope with your loss and learn to live a different  life without a person you loved.  As you grieve, expect both good and bad days.  Some days you may be more productive than others.  That, too, is part of the journey.

Remain hopeful.  Life after loss will be different.  But as hard as it may be to believe now, it can still have joy and happiness.  Keep sight of the future.  Focus on where you wish to be next week, next month, or next year.  Think of the small daily changes you can make to bring you closer to your goal.  Remember that while we have no choice about loss or the grief that follows, we do have choices about how we grieve.  Choose growth.

This article was originally printed in Journeys:  A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement, published by Hospice Foundation of America.  More information about Journeys can be found at  www.hospicefoundation.org or by calling 800-854-3402 and is published monthly by the Hospice Foundation of America, 1710 Rhode Island Ave, NW Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036. Annual subscription-$25.00.

Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., is a Professor of Gerontology at the College of New Rochelle.  Dr. Doka’s books include:  Disenfranchised Grief; Living with Life Threatening Illness; Living with Grief: After Sudden Loss; Death and Spirituality; Living With Grief:  When Illness is Prolonged; Living with Grief: Who We Are, How We Grieve; AIDS,Fear & Society;  Aging and Developmental Disabilities; and Children Mourning, Mourning Children.  In addition to these books, he has published over 60 articles and chapters.  Dr. Doka is the associate editor of the journal Omega and editor of Journeys, a newsletter of the bereaved.  Dr. Doka has served as a consultant to medical, nursing, hospice organizations, as well as businesses, educational and social service agencies.  As Senior Consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America, he assists in planning, and participates in their annual Teleconference.  In 1998, the Association for Death Education and Counseling honored him by presenting him an Award for Outstanding Contributions to the field of death education.  In March 1993, he was elected President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling.  Dr. Doka was elected in 1995 to the Board of the International Work Group on Dying, Death and Bereavement and elected Chair in 1997.  Dr. Doka is an ordained Lutheran Clergyman. (And a heck of a nice guy– Editor & Publisher)


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