Sunday, November 18, 2012

The finite nature of grief

Grief can be a finite process that has a beginning, a middle and an end.

“In a previous study, we found that the majority of bereaved parents interviewed after the loss of a child were able to adjust to the child’s death and to integrate the experience into daily life, navigating the fine line between remembering their deceased child and reliving their intense grief, while also engaging in their family life and jobs.” In Death Studies, 33: 497–520, 2009

It is not uncommon to hear people say they would never get over the death of a child. It is important for therapists to confront this faulty belief in some way. Humans can get over tremendous loss if the bereavement process is dealt with properly. It is also important for therapists to let the client know that grief can be finite.

The pain from the loss of a loved one can be severe but it can also be temporary.

One hears statements made by therapists such as: “You will grieve at your pace, in your time and in your way”. Whilst this is somewhat true it is potentially harmful as it gives the person permission to extend their grief process for many years in some cases. 

When I work with clients who have had the loss of a child at some point I will usually say that 80 years ago parents would have 7 or 8 children because half of them were likely to die before they reached adulthood. We have become a death phobic society and become hyper sensitized to death as we progressively remove ‘offensive’ images and material from our lives and vision. The less we see such images like of dead people, the more hyper sensitized we become to them and the more images we need to remove. This is particularly happening in the news media.



  1. I guess people are allowed to take more time than therapists want. (I suspect these therapists had parents who told them to 'Hurry up!')

    The resistance to being told to 'get over it' makes good sense I think. Firstly it is usually crass insensitivity (due to being scared by the intensity of the other's feeling?). Secondly because it can sound like things will be the same as they were before. When someone you loved is no longer around then things obviously won't be the same as they were before.

    I think the grieving process terminates with finding a new 'normal'. Which may include ongoing bouts of sadness on the anniversary of the loved person's death and so on. I think people 'get over it' in this sense.

  2. Well you can argue it is just a mistaken 'hurry up' evan and perhaps even crass insensitivity as you suggest. Without a doubt some bereavement counsellors actively encourage clients to suffer longer than they have to due to seeing grief as a never ending or very long process. If I was a client I would not want that. So I will let people know that there is mainstream thought in counselling that grief is finite and in usual circumstances after 6 months one would notice a significant reduction in the painful grief emotions.