Working Through Prolonged Grief

“Life is like an onion; you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.”
Carl Sandburg

Grieving is hard. Our life energy diminishes, we lose interest in so many things, we hurt. Many people go through different phases of grieving and then move past it, while others remain stuck. They experience prolonged grief. If you are caught in grief that doesn't seem to ever end, you may find the following information helpful.

We can get stuck in one of the stages of grief —such as denial, anger, or depression or just deep unrelenting sadness—and have difficulty finding our way out. Sometimes we need additional help to move through prolonged grief and move on in our lives. Major losses can be overwhelming and sometimes guidance from others can be invaluable in helping us move through our grief.

I have been leading Grief and Loss retreats for the past 15 years. These events have helped hundreds of people move through stuck pain and find joy again. Many of those who attend have experienced grief for longer than a year or are stuck and need to find ways to go forward. The retreats can help people get ready to let go and be complete with their grief. If you have a loss that you have never gotten over, and it has been some time, you might want to consider attending.

Sometimes it is a loss of a loved one...our life partner or a member of our immediate family. Other times it can be due to an even older loss. Many of us carry the weight of childhood pain with us, in the form of a depressed mood and other symptoms.

Prolonged grief can take many forms, such as:
Depression
Negativity
Apathy
Lack of energy (tiredness)
Lack of enthusiasm or enjoyment of life
Difficulty focusing
Difficulty sleeping
Weight loss
Inability to trust others
Bitterness
Emotional numbness
Feeling that life has lost meaning

While grief after the death of a loved one is normal, if it lasts many months and is accompanied by several of the above symptoms, a person can be stuck. Some therapists call this “Prolonged Grief Disorder,” for grief that lasts more than 6 months.

Some activities that can be helpful for working through prolonged grief and that can be part of psychotherapy include:

  • Learning to meditate, especially mindfulness 
  • Learning stress reduction and relaxation skills
  • Counseling that focuses on goal setting and problem solving
  • Counseling or retreats that help people work through anger, grief, anxiety, and other uncomfortable emotions
  • Rediscovering old activities that were once enjoyable and discovering new enjoyable activities

Sometimes a particular process called "finishing" can be helpful. This is a dialogue facilitated by a therapist or retreat leader that helps you speak directly with the person with whom you are feeling your prolonged grief. Sometimes clients take the role of themselves and then the person whom they lost, and back again to go deeper than they have before to finally be able to say goodbye.

This can be one of the activities that takes place at our Grief and Loss retreats.

There are several pages on this site that can help with grief. 

First Aid/Advice for people who are grief stricken can be found here.

For more on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Grief go to Stages of Grief

Sometimes we just hide from grief and try to deflect it. I grew up in a family where it was not an acceptable feeling to have…crying, for example, was met with “I’ll give you something to cry about!” So I learned to avoid showing my grief and I ended up pushing my grief underground, out of my awareness, and deep into my body. To read more about hiding from grief go to Handling Grief.

When there is a very recent loss, we may not be ready to do intensive grief work. We may just need to go through our grieving slowly, bit by bit. Grieving takes time. So give it sufficient time, give it sufficient space in your life.

But if you are frozen in your grief, or drowning in it, it can be time to get help. Some people come to our retreat just to be held in love.

Grieving isn’t easy and it’s hardly comfortable. This article may be helpful: Extreme Grief.

Jon Terrell specializes in working with grief and other difficult emotions. He leads retreats on Grief and Loss about 8 times a year. He also offers counseling and Energy Healing for individuals and couples at his offices in Northampton, Massachusetts and in downtown Manhattan and he does grief counseling on the phone and with Skype. Jon does not take insurance. For more information or if you have a question, contact him using the form below.

Go to Grief, Loss and Difficult Emotions Retreat

Go From Prolonged Grief to Main Grief Page

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