Anne Pascale Stein is a German, English and French speaking licensed mental health practitioner in Berlin and online with over a decade of experience in private practice. Her approach combines body-oriented, emotion-focused, and attachment-based methods to help with anxiety, exhaustion, depression, grief and trauma.
Last Updated on October 30, 2023 by It’s Complicated
“Grief is what you think and feel on the inside after someone you love dies. Mourning is the outward expression of those thoughts and feelings. To mourn is to be an active participant in our grief journeys. We all grieve when someone we love dies, but if we are to heal, we must also mourn.”– Alan D. Wolfelt
“Some things cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”— Megan Devine
“Is it still normal that I am so sad? Am I overreacting? How long will it last?” A lot of people are very skeptical of how – how often, how long, how intense – their sadness shows up. No matter if they have every reason to feel sad. They may have experienced the death of a child or a parent, divorce, a breakup, a decline in health, the loss of their home, their health, their workplace or children leaving home… and still they will argue: “I don’t want to cry anymore. I’ve cried enough.” or, “Why should I cry at all? It doesn’t feel good, and it doesn’t help.” In this post you will learn why and how engaging actively in your sadness is key to healing.
Loss fundamentally changes our lives. Some losses create a distinct “before” and “after”. The transition from one to the other is a long and painful process. Grief is challenging, exhausting, and demands time, energy, and space. Grief and sadness are natural reactions to loss, but often, we haven’t been taught how to be sad or how to grieve.
Did you witness your parents crying? Did you attend funerals as a child? Did you observe someone mourn and gradually recover? How did the adults around you discuss death and loss? What did their actions teach you about handling such situations?
Grief is the individual journey of mourning, and while our culture has established rituals for death, there are few for other types of loss. Mourning can serve as the process through which we determine the rituals necessary for our unique healing.
Common Misconceptions About Grief
Grief is not a mental illness, even though it can be intense and enduring. On the contrary, suppressing grief and sadness can lead to issues like depression or psychosomatic symptoms. Seeking assistance from a counselor or therapist during grieving can prevent these problems and provide support in a culture that often struggles to accommodate sadness.
Grief is not a ‘to-do’ you can just get over with. It is a journey, and some grief may persist for a lifetime. Pain is an inherent part of life, just like joy, excitement, laughter, and happiness. We cannot selectively numb our feelings; rejecting sadness also diminishes our ability to feel happiness, joy, and gratitude. All emotions then become shallow.
While grief is often portrayed as progressing through stages (e.g. denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), for some those models are too rigid and limiting. Stages seem to imply a clear beginning and ending, which can lead to feelings of shame and guilt or make you feel as if you are doing something wrong. And this is the last thing you need when you are grieving.
Embracing the duration and movements of the grieving process can be challenging. Some may find it difficult to accept moments of feeling better, fearing that it minimizes their loss, while others struggle to accept another wave of sadness, fearing they will be inconsolable. The model of the six needs of mourning by Alan D. Wolfelt might be a helpful path to healing.
The Six Needs of Mourning
Wolfelt describes six needs of mourning as the tasks life presents to us after loss. Actively addressing these needs constitutes mourning. There is no specific order and it’s normal to move between them. Each need may require your attention again and again for months. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you work through them.
1. Acknowledge the reality of the loss.
After a loss, accepting the new reality that someone or something you cared deeply about will never physically return to your life is immensely challenging. At times, you may deny this reality in order to cope. In the traditional stages model, acceptance is the ultimate goal, but sometimes you can’t accept it. In this case it’s enough to acknowledge the loss. Revisiting memories around the loss and sharing them again and again is a crucial part of mourning; each time you speak about it, the loss becomes a bit more real.
2. Embrace the pain of the loss.
This one doesn’t come naturally. It’s easier to avoid, suppress, or deny our pain, especially since our culture often encourages this behavior and praises those who stay “strong” and “in control.” Expressing feelings of sadness or grief is often met with the advice to “move on,” “be grateful,” or the belief that “everything serves a purpose.” When confronting your pain, you may need to adjust how much you can handle at once. Your pain must learn to manifest itself in ways you can tolerate, as you need to learn to tolerate your pain. There will be moments when you need to move away from it and others when you need to create a safe space for meeting it.
3. Remember what has been lost.
This one is about the love that exists in grief. Create your own personal rituals to maintain your connection with what you’ve lost. Keeping your memories close can help you become hopeful and open to new things down the road. Just as courage is the flip side of fear, love is the flip side of grief. It’s not about letting go but rather about finding another place for what was lost within you and in your life.
4. Develop a new self-identity.
Grief can be like a magnifying glass, revealing what truly matters to us. When you lose someone or something that was part of you and your life, the way you perceive yourself naturally changes. The deeper your connection to what you lost was, the more profound the transformation may be. You’ll transition from “wife” to “widow,” “parent” to “bereaved parent,” “married” to “divorced.” Although this shift can be draining, frightening, or frustrating, you’ll gradually grow into it. Along the way, you’ll discover new facets of yourself: renewed confidence, tenderness, kindness, and even assertiveness.
5. Search for meaning.
“Why did this happen to me?” Don’t get stressed! You may or may not find an answer to this question. Loss reminds us of our lack of control, and feelings of helplessness, sadness, and loneliness can be overwhelming at times. However, you will eventually find your way and live into answers that provide meaning in your personal journey of loss.
6. Receive ongoing support from others.
We’re not meant to go through tough times all by ourselves. How much you reach out for and accept help from others during your grieving journey has a big impact on your ability to heal. It’s important to understand that seeking support from friends, family, or professional counselors isn’t a sign of weakness, it shows how much you care about what you’ve lost. In a society that often rushes past sadness, there might be expectations for you to quickly “move on,” but it’s essential to communicate with those around you about what kind of support you need. This can sometimes feel like too big of a task. Since grief is a lifelong process, getting support remains important for months and even years after your loss.
Grief is a natural response to loss, and mourning is the active process that helps us address our pain and heal. Understanding and embracing the six needs of mourning can guide you towards reconciling with your grief and integrating the new reality of living without what was lost. In doing so, you can make room for hope in your future and regain the energy to engage fully in the activities of your life.
A Journal Prompt for Grief
Take a piece of paper and draw six circles, one for each of your own needs. Write down what you have already done to take care of each of these needs. Take a moment to think about additional things you’d like to try. Consider which need has been particularly tough for you to deal with and think about what might assist you in addressing it.
Keep in mind that these needs can change over time, and you may find some aspects more challenging as you go through your grieving process. Trust that you’ll be able to address each need in your own time, and be kind to yourself as you navigate the ups and downs of grief and healing. You may also take a look at these tips on practicing self-compassion.
Sources and resources:
Alan D. Wolfelt, Understanding your grief. Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart, 2021 (1992)
Megan Devine, It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand, 2017
George Bonanno, The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After a Loss, 2019 (2009)
Watch How to help a grieving friend HERE
Alan D. Wolfelt, The Understanding Your Grief Journal: Exploring the Ten Essential Touchstones, 2021
Megan Devine, How to Carry what can’t be fixed. A Journal for Grief, 2021
English: Megan Devine, It’s OK That You Are Not OK
German: Christine Kempkes, Liebevoll Trauern
You may also want to look out for online support groups or writing groups HERE.
For Germany, take a look HERE.
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