The death of a loved one is an event that we all go through at some point in life, to which difficult affections are associated and which can mark a before and after. A new chapter A point and apart.
The losses of our parents, grandparents or older siblings are part of a natural order dominated by time. Therefore, it is something we must assume and be prepared to experience. Other times, however, there are unforeseen, immeasurably painful losses (like that of a child).
It is essential to consider that a passive attitude to these circumstances does not usually lead anywhere, as there are a number of tasks that we must face in order to continue living and maintaining the loving memory of who left.
In this article we will discuss the treatment of grief according to William Worden , a prestigious Doctor of Psychology whose contribution to this field has raised him as an unavoidable reference for the understanding of the process we alluded to: transcending death (and life) while maintaining the ability to be happy
- Related article: ” The duel: facing the loss of a loved one“
The treatment of grief according to William Worden
Many of the traditional descriptions of grief have understood those who pass through it as a passive entity, subject to external forces that will trace a path along which they will simply wander without a compass or purpose. Such a way of perceiving this stage of life adds even more pain , since it adds an uncontrollable component to a sometimes barren and barren landscape.
The truth is that it is a vital process that has enormous individuality, being difficult to distinguish a linear succession of universal stages that every survivor will necessarily go through. Thus, it is impossible to establish a temporary criterion from which the pain becomes of clinical relevance . It is a complex experience, irreducible to objective terms that are applicable to all.
The treatment of grief according to William Worden aims, therefore, to be sensitive and aware of this reality . The author proposes a four-phase model in which an extensive individuality is accommodated, and in which the person must carry out a series of functions aimed at advancing on their way to integrate emotionally the memory of the missing loved one . From this perspective, those who survive a loss take an active and proactive role, as opposed to the classical vision.
The tasks to be fulfilled would be, specifically: to accept the loss, to protect the emotion that is experienced, to restore balance by assigning roles and integrating the memory of the loved one into one’s life. Let us see in detail the phases proposed by Worden , which constitute a frequently used approach in cases in which the suffering becomes intense and prolonged.
1. Accept the reality of the loss
One of the first emotional reactions that arise after knowing the loss of a loved one is shock. This is a response in which very intense emotions emerge, which even compromise attention and / or memory for the episode (so the precise moment in which the fact was certain was not remembered later). Although this state becomes difficult for emotional processing at the beginning, it allows the situation to be assimilated progressively as time goes by.
At the moment in which the person begins to orient himself, the common thing is that he stays in a position of denial or disbelief . This can last for several days; in those who think, feel and act as if the family member were present. All this is more likely in cases where death happens in a totally unexpected way, because when it has been traversed by a lasting illness, an early duel tends to be observed (for which at least part of the path has already been traveled in the moment of death).
The integration of the loss must be carried out on two levels, and in an always progressive way: rational (assume awareness of the facts as they happened, granting more precise coordinates to the situation and its consequences) and emotional (contact the affections that occur as a result of what happened).
At this stage there can be a limited recognition of the intellectual , without the accompanying affections (feeling that the person would “remain there” if he went to visit his home). This situation usually surprises the survivor, who doesn’t understand why “he doesn’t feel as bad as he expected.”
The practice of funeral rituals , which exist from the dawn of humanity and depend on cultural reality (or the beliefs of the deceased at the spiritual level), have a basic function in this process: they allow to record what happened and facilitate the meeting of those who suffer a shared pain. This is one of the points where the first gestures of true regret are most frequently observed (condolences, cries, etc.). And it is the moment in which a tangible and formal farewell takes place.
In the days following this act, the grieving process can take many different forms . In some cases, the person needs to harbor the pain that accompanies them in their internal jurisdiction (so that their appearance is taciturn and distant), while in others the desire to share feelings about the lost loved one is evident. The way of communicating is unique for everyone, private and intimate. It is also the first station on the way to overcome the duel.
- You may be interested: ” The 6 types of mood disorders“
2. Elaboration of grief pain
The elaboration of pain for the loss of a loved one is not a quick or simple process. Despite having spent many weeks or months, it is very possible that thoughts about it generate intense pain and tremendously difficult to cope with, so it is common for many people to try to distract themselves in order to overcome their suffering.
Thus, they can devote more time to their work or other activities, relegating what happens inside to a second order of importance .
The cases of families that do everything possible to avoid what reminds them of the deceased (withdrawing photographs or building taboos on him) or in which the opposite occurs (as if silence on the matter banishes him to cruel oblivion) are not uncommon. . All this is natural in the context of efforts to assemble a puzzle for which too many pieces are missing, and in which each of the mourners has a unique way of addressing it. Even with everything, sometimes conflicts can arise due to such a discrepancy , which we must resolve correctly to avoid further discomfort.
The truth is that it is an emotional matter that we will have to deal with sooner or later. Facing him means recognizing and assuming that he will go through disparate and confusing internal states ; like anger, sadness or fear. All are legitimate affections that are part of the baggage we have to overcome adversity, so it is key to stop to listen to them from an acceptance position and with the necessary disposition to tolerate their presence.
This part of the process is the one that requires the investment of greater emotional effort, since during its development levels of personally relevant sadness and anxiety arise, and even some organic problem (such as headache, digestive disorders, etc.). It is also very common to have difficulty sleeping and changes in appetite (ranging from appetite to ravenous hunger). Therefore, it is essential to ensure self-care and ensure the maintenance of one’s own health.
At this point in the process, it is crucial to seek the support of trusted people , and understand that sometimes they too may feel frustrated when trying to alleviate (unsuccessfully) the grief of someone they consider important.
We must establish links that allow communicating and organizing the inner life, which is possible when the interlocutor maintains an active and patient listening. This help reduces the risk of mental health problems associated with such a delicate moment.
Finally, it is necessary for the person to be aware of two situations that may exacerbate their grief : go to places where they used to meet with the deceased person and that specified dates (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) are met. When the anniversary of death arrives, a spontaneous escalation of pain can also be manifested. These are well known circumstances, for which you have to be properly prepared.
3. Adapt to a new world without the loved one
All families function as a system, so that each of its gears fulfills a specific task but embedded in the activity of the group. It could be said that its members have complementary roles with respect to those of others , so the dynamics that hold them together are subject to a balance or “social homeostasis”. When one of the pieces is missing, it is necessary to produce adjustments aimed at enabling the continuity of life in common.
Thus, the death of the loved one not only leaves an emotional void, but also extends to the acts and customs of everyday life . The responsibilities attributed to him are now neglected, and will have to be resolved by other elements of the family unit. This process is not at all simple, especially when the deceased person was in charge of economic support or acted as a beacon that oriented relational tensions towards the placid banks of consensus.
In addition, even though it is easy to redistribute tasks among family members, sometimes feelings of anxiety or grief may arise as they are carried out. This is because the action sharpens the feeling of absence of the loved one , and at the same time displaces the contributions he made in life to a new dimension. That is why difficulties arise despite the availability of the skills or the opportunity to successfully perform all tasks.
This situation is usually experienced as a substantial adaptive challenge, although it also offers satisfactions and lessons that contribute to improving the emotional state at a time of difficulty.
As progress is made towards successive stages of grief, the involvement in these new activities will no longer be perceived as a kind of substitution , integrating the role of the deceased in all family dynamics that emerge from shared adversity.
4. Emotionally relocate the deceased loved one
The death of someone dear is a break in the line of continuity on which we write the book of our existence, which hinders its integration into the narrative that one makes of his own history.
That is why we understand as “overcome” a grieving process when the person is able to attribute a harmonious sense to the life of those who are no longer there . The truth is that the links between human beings are not diluted with death, but remain valid, transforming and acquiring new meanings.
The integration of the loved one into one’s life implies the reorganization of everything that was shared with him within our individuality; reconciling all the memories in the meek flow of personal history. The distressing emptiness of the first months , experienced as a break in the fabric of one’s own existence, acquires a recognizable form and allows us to move on. That is why in the last stage the person redirects his gaze “outward”, towards a life whose course never ceases.
And is that the forgetfulness of the lost never comes. Well, when one life touches another life, it changes forever. Even in spite of death.