Four ways to start 'grieving forward'

February 28, 2018



The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not "get over" the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.


-Elisabeth Kübler-Ross




In 1969, Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Kübler-Ross introduced her five stages of grief to describe the typical, linear process a bereaved person must endure to feel "whole" or recovered. This process begins with denial then anger, followed by bargaining, depression and ends with acceptance. Today, many therapists still use this model to help clients understand their grief and to assign meaning to their pain. Clients find comfort in knowing that their emotional turmoil is common and that other people have used this process to navigate through the darkest moments of their loss to emerge more functional and self aware. I find this model useful as a framework, but it also oversimplifies grief and mandates that those who have not reached the final stage, acceptance, remain trapped in their anger or depression. I believe there is a better way. You can gain relief without adhering strictly to this model.


First, "getting over" a loss is difficult because we cannot resurrect what we have lost. Each day we live without our love will be a day we experience longing. Our most promising source of hope and highest form of existential achievement will be the moment we learn to "grieve forward."  Grieving forward is a phrase I use to describe the ongoing and permanent process of living a full and happy life without the physical presence of a loved one. Here are four principles to help you begin "grieving forward."


1. Restoration is a strategic, lifelong process achieved through active seeking. In your grief journey, establish immediate short-term and long-term goals. Decide if your grief will be a life sentence, a way of life, or life changing. Focus initially on small-scale, measurable goals. For example, a typical goal I set with clients is to get out of bed each morning at the same time. Set a routine. The habits you develop to cope with grief will shape your path to restoration.

2. Do not bury your sorrow, but record your thoughts and impulses throughout the day in a journal. I make this recommendation to clients who want to explore their emotional triggers, thoughts, and feelings about loss. I call the practice of writing to raise one's level of self-awareness, “journaling,” and this helps my clients to monitor their thoughts and to prepare for upcoming sessions. If possible, you should note the people or places that trigger your emotions. Observing connections between your tangible reality and the way your mind reacts to stimuli in a journal will help you uncover hidden, untested beliefs about yourself and to unveil your inner strengths.

3. Create purposeful life reminders throughout the year. For example, if your loved one enjoyed hiking, try to organize an annual hike with family and friends to share memories along a nature trail. Each year a colleague of mine celebrates the life of her grandfather by hosting a summer party in Virginia. She states that social gatherings transform the memory of his passing from a tragic loss to a celebration. Whether small or large, the manner you memorialize your loved one should reflect his lifestyle and personality.

4. Finally, be present with people who still need you and who want to see you happy. According to the National Institute of Health, social isolation, or a lack of participation in social events, is associated with severe physical and psychological risks including higher morbidity, mortality, increased depression and cognitive decline. The NIH reports that the health risks related to social isolation are comparable to smoking. Isolating yourself  is physically and emotionally damaging! Don’t harm yourself - spend time with family and friends each week to restore a sense of normalcy, purpose and love.



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