Coping with Grief
Updated: Apr 23, 2018
By John Edwards
A few years ago I was facilitating a grief group in Aynor, S.C., and we were talking about what grief felt like. One of the ladies, who had just lost her husband after 60 plus years of marriage, said something that I will never forget. She said, “For me, grief is like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube.” I responded, “How so?” She replied, “You can put the toothpaste back in the tube, but it takes work.”
The Tasks of Mourning
One of today’s top grief theorists (yes that is a thing), Dr. J. William Worden, gives a plan on how to get the toothpaste back into the tube. In his book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, he gave us four tasks that a person who is mourning the loss of a loved one must work through in order to move forward in their journey. These tasks may occur in any order, or even simultaneously. You may need to go back and forth between them. Here is what he gave us:
Task I: Accept the Reality of the Loss – No matter how hard we wish it to be so; we must realize the person is not coming back.
Task II: To Process the Pain of Grief – Grief causes pain, and if we do not work through the pain then it will manifest itself in our lives in other areas that may be harmful to ourselves and others.
Task III: Adjust to the World without the Deceased – How has my life changed (physically, cognitively, spiritually, emotionally, and socially) since the death?
Task IV: To Find an Enduring Connection With the Deceased in the Midst of Embarking on a New Life – I must work on staying connected with my loved one while living my own life in the new normal.
When working on the above task in your grief journey, here are 20 helpful ways to get the toothpaste back in the tube:
Keep a journal
Make a scrapbook of pictures and memories
Create a memory box
Plant a garden
Write a book or poem of how you are feeling
Draw a picture
Tell your story
See a professional therapist
Talk to your clergy
Visit your family physician
Light a candle in memory of them
Start a new hobby or pick up an old one
Reconnect with friends
Join a club
Find a grief group in your area to join
Get plenty of rest
Placing the Cap Back on the Tube
When do you know it is “ok” to place the cap back on the toothpaste tube, and move on? It is entirely up to you, and it depends on the day. Some days you may feel there is enough in the tube to take the next step, and then the next day you hear a song, smell a perfume, remember an anniversary or birthday, and the toothpaste is out of the tube once again. When those days happen and waves of grief knock you down, remember you are not alone. Find someone to talk with and share your story.