How Can I Speed up the Grieving Process?

A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I speed up the grieving process?

Expert Answer

Martha Clark Scala has been a psychotherapist in private practice since 1992, with offices in Palo Alto and San Francisco, California. She regularly writes about grief and loss, the necessity of self-care, and substance abuse. Her e-newsletter, "Out on a Limb," is available to subscribers through her website.

While each person has a unique way of grieving and expressing grief, there are a number of tried-and-true steps you can use to help speed up the process. It's important not to be in too much of a rush -- grief must actually be experienced -- or you may end up delaying the satisfying sense of resolution you're seeking. But to help yourself work through the process, consider these methods:

Participate in bereavement rituals with other mourners. Whether it's a ceremony such as a funeral, memorial service, burial, scattering of ashes, sitting shiva, or any other type of ritual to honor the death of someone important to you, make every effort to attend. Taking time out to remember the person you've lost, and sharing the memories with others who are also mourning, can be incredibly helpful for all of you.

Design your own bereavement ritual. If no bereavement ritual is planned -- perhaps because the deceased person wanted it that way -- or if you're unable to attend a ritual, design one on your own. It's important to find some way, even if it seems small, to mark the loss you're grieving.

For example:

  • Cook or go out for a special meal that reminds you in some way of the deceased. Say what you miss or appreciate about this person while you and others sit together to eat.

  • Plant a memorial shrub or flower in your own garden in the deceased's honor.

  • Ask three or four friends or relatives to take a short excursion with you to a place that holds particularly good memories of the person who has died.

Engage in the grieving process. The feelings that come up when you grieve can be really uncomfortable. It's tempting to run in the opposite direction. Filling your life with some distractions is good, because there's no rule saying you must be with these emotions 24 hours a day. However, piling on too many other activities just delays your grieving, it doesn't really make it go away. Try instead to stay open to all of your reactions, because they more than likely need "airtime" before they'll be resolved.

Consider grief counseling. A grief counselor is either a trained helper or an experienced volunteer who helps those who are bereaved. A good counselor is skilled at bearing witness to the broad range of intense emotions or, in some cases, the absence of such emotions that people experience when they're grieving or anticipating a major loss. He or she should be able to listen to the story of your loss, assist you in determining whether your responses to the loss or anticipated loss are normal, and guide your journey through all that grief can include.

Communicate your feelings through creative expression. There's something about using creative endeavors to express your thoughts and feelings in the aftermath of a loss that has an incredibly healing effect. Don't worry about whether you're good at whatever form of expression you undertake. The focus is on externalizing what's going on inside.

Some examples of therapeutic creative expression:

"¢ Compiling photo scrapbooks

"¢ Planting a memorial garden

"¢ Writing poems or eulogies

"¢ Preparing memorial meals

"¢ Creating a collage or painting

"¢ Performing a dance or song