In order to survive and thrive after the death of a loved one, it is necessary to move at your own pace through various phases of grief embracing the use of healthy coping skills. In her book, “The Courage to Grieve”, Judy Tatelbaum tells us there are three phases of grief. Using these phases as our basis, we have highlighted some of the characteristics of each phase and the coping strategies we have found helpful in our individual journeys. We hope you will find something that will help you on your own journey.

“Regardless of how it occurs, the death of a loved one is shocking, painful, and seemingly impossible to accept. We often feel unprepared and therefore devastated by the death. Our loss is compounded by our characteristic human difficulty in separating from one another; death is the supreme separation. Whatever the circumstances, confronting death is not easy.” From “The Courage to Grieve” by Judy Tatelbaum, M.S.W., psychotherapist.


No! It can’t be!
When you get that tragic phone call and drop the phone in disbelief, the shock can last for days or weeks. You cannot change an event once it has happened. Allow yourself to feel your emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other. Grief is draining in so many ways, including emotionally, mentally, and physically. It is very therapeutic to sleep when you are tired, eat when you are hungry, cry when you need to and talk to someone you trust that will listen to you unconditionally. For some folks, that someone is a friend, a family member, a support group like Threads of Life, a member of the clergy or a therapist. Others find solace in prayer. Regardless of your choice, express yourself when you feel the need.

Suffering and Disorganization
Which end is up?
What do I/we do now?

Once the numbness from the initial shock has worn off, you may feel more pain than you ever believed possible. It is still extremely important in this stage to let yourself experience your pain and sorrow and not try to “be strong” for others. We cannot “go around” grief; we must “go through” it in order to accept the reality of the loss of our loved one. Remember to continue to eat well. Often, a small portion at frequent intervals is best. Record your thoughts in a journal if you are inclined to – as time passes you will be able to look back and track your progress. Give yourself plenty of time to rest and exercise even if it is just going for a walk to get some fresh air and take in the beauty of nature. As you move toward accepting the reality of the loss of your loved one, it is helpful to read and learn from material that describes what you are experiencing. This is particularly helpful in reducing your feelings of vulnerability and the knowledge gained helps, to some extent, to regain a sense of control over your experiences. Talk-Talk-Talk-get it off your chest.

Aftershocks and Reorganization
OK, it really happened. I will live with my happy memories. When I am ready, if I choose to, I will help others deal with the loss of their loved one AND also do what I can in order to prevent others from having to go through a preventable tragedy.

In this stage, you can ultimately reach the point where you have conquered your grief and its grip on you. You eventually gain the ability to think of your lost loved one without heart-wrenching pain-there will always be a sense of sadness, but it will no longer have the wrenching quality it previously had. Developing a relationship of memory with your lost loved one is helpful and rewarding. One way to memorialize your loved one is to withdraw emotional energy from grieving and reinvest that energy productively in other activities. This way you feel that your loved one did not die in vain. Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that bad things happen to good people. Just as we know that loss is inevitable, we know that recovering from sorrow can in fact also be inevitable. As unlikely as it seems at the time we lose our loved one, Judy Tatelbaum points out that we can use our loss in loving testimonial to the deceased as a step in our own growth as a positive turning point in our lives. We have the opportunity to participate in or lead support groups (big or small, formal or informal) to help others deal with their tragic experiences or simply to help prevent others from going through what we have gone through ourselves.

“What is extraordinary about us is that we each have the capacity to rise like the phoenix out of our ashes, to create ourselves newly, to begin again. We can transform ourselves and our lives, regardless of what we have endured before now. Maybe the true purpose of suffering is that out of our pain, we will rise, expand, grow and achieve.” Judy Tatelbaum

While stages of grief are common, how we grieve and get on with life differs from individual to individual. Folks that are grieving need loving people to stand by them through their suffering. Unconditional support is the greatest gift we can give to the bereaved. If you are not sure what to do for the bereaved, try to think what you would like done for you if you were in their shoes. Just being there to provide a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear or just your quiet presence and unconditional love may be just what is needed. Many find ongoing value in getting involved in groups that focus on preventing other needless deaths from occurring, such as MADD or Threads of Life, others become mentors in support group(s). Our involvement and how that enriches our life and the lives of the folks we touch are moments that help us rise like the phoenix and make life better amidst the tragedies and joys that make up our human existence.