Monday, November 4, 2013

The Courage to Grieve

Let's face it: loss hurts. The death of a loved one, the end of a romantic relationship or friendship, financial hardship, changing jobs - these are all common losses we experience. Sometimes, it can seem like life is a series of losses. In our fast-paced, over scheduled culture, it's easier to keep going without pausing to mourn the cumulative losses we face in our lifetimes. Who wants to take time to feel sadness, anger, guilt or emptiness?

Our society has become very grief avoidant. For example, most employers give three days of bereavement leave following the death of a close relative. We are expected to take a few days off, grieve and then return to work renewed and ready to pick up where we left off. We are encouraged to stuff our grief down deep inside so that we can be productive at work and remain engaged with life. I often talk to bereaved clients who intentionally stop their tears from flowing, drag themselves out of their houses to work, to school or to the community center to become immersed in anything but how they are feeling. Or, the exhaust themselves with exercise in order to be able to collapse into bed at night and avoid thinking about their loss.

It takes courage to open up to grief, to intentionally slow down and sit with its ugliness. And grief isn't just ugly. It's messy. It's unpredictable. It doesn't have neat stages, contrary to popular wisdom. Grief can be raw, unadulterated pain if it's allowed to express itself. And human beings don't like to feel pain, especially when the pain is holistic and affects our thoughts, feelings, behavior and spirit.

Experiencing the pain that comes as a natural reaction to loss is what we must do in order to move through the process and eventually heal. Moving through the pain is made easier with good social support, coping skills and self care. I would argue that even with those in place, something more is needed, and that's courage. The courage to know that perhaps it will be worse before it's better. Or that no matter how many people are willing to help and be supportive, the grief process is a path that ultimately must be walked alone. The courage to believe that you will be okay. The courage to keep reaching for life during the darkest days.

In the coming months, we will be sharing stories, experiences and hopefully inspiration for those trying to courageously live with loss. We encourage you to join our discussion by posting your own comments and sharing what you have encountered as you journey through grief.

This blog entry was written by Becca White, Arbor Hospice Grief Support Coordinator. You can contact her by commenting below or emailing her at

This blog post was inspired by the writings of Judy Tatelbaum, grief expert and author of The Courage to Grieve and You Don't Have to Suffer. Visit her website or her page.


  1. There is a lot of truth in this article. People are often uncomfortable with those who are in the deepest grief and don't know what to do when someone gets tears in their eyes or becomes emotional.

    The more of a dialogue we can have about healthy grieving, the better off we will all be.

    One of my dear friends quotes the movie, Shrek, when speaking of grieving: "Better out than in."

    1. Hi Donna. I really like your friend's quote from Shrek. It's very true when it comes to grief. And letting it out can take so many forms: tears, punching a pillow, drawing a picture, playing a musical instrument. In the end, it's essential to express one's grief in some form. We can certainly do better as a society with being comfortable with others' expression, too. I wonder how we could start moving in that direction?

  2. As a psychotherapist, I'm very comfortable talking about difficult subjects, but I've found that even when I ask friends how they're doing with their losses, they shy away from talking about them. I like to give them the opportunity to hear their loved one's name and discuss their process, as well as tell stories about the deceased. Our society is grief-phobic. You're right, Becca, it takes courage to grieve in this society that acts like you should be over a major loss in a week.

    1. Lorri, "grief-phobic" is a great term. I find myself encouraging clients to educate those around them regarding their process and what they need, as a way to overcome others' discomfort or avoidance. For instance, being very specific with how others can help such as having a neighbor take out garbage cans on trash day or having a friend call every day at a certain time just to check in. Self advocacy in these ways takes courage when one is so vulnerable and frankly, exhausted. It's great that you make an effort to give your friends the space to tell their stories and remember loved ones. I'm sure that even if they don't always take you up on it, it's much appreciated.

  3. I've found writing to be a blessing as I've processed both my father's passing (9 years ago) and my grandma's passing (2 weeks ago).

    In the spirit of sharing my stories, here are a couple of links to the entries I hope can be of some support or help to others.

    And Then That Happened:!

    The Current!

    Jack - O - Lifeturn!

    Wrestling With Grief (Again!)!

    Gone From My Sight | 9 Years & 2 Weeks!