Grief is not something that can be avoided successfully forever. It will have its day, and like the motor oil commercial that says, "you can pay me now or pay me later" the cost of postponement can actually cause more distress than if the issues of the grief had been faced initially. Grief counselors can help survivors identify stressors, identify healthy and not so healthy ways of coping and suggest ways of creating rituals to help process grief. They are able to help grievers understand why the process takes so long and how so many areas of their lives are affected. Perhaps by opening up the door to the expressions of grief, anger and sadness, they are able to release the emotional burdens often kept within.
Others who have experienced loss and are coping with the same grief issues can provide support and create other options for finding a way through sorrow. In the past ten years, while leading the "Growing Through Loss" bereavement program sponsored by Mount Nittany Medical Center, Chaplain George Burn has met scores of people who have one thing in common: they are trying to find their way through the gaping hole in their lives left by the loss of a loved one.
The loss of a spouse can lead to economic changes, which can require taking on the responsibility of single parenting, learning new tasks that had once been performed by the missing spouse and coping with the loneliness of a quiet household. Mealtimes that before were a shared experience become less a ritual at the end of the day and more the necessity of nourishing oneself even when ones appetite is gone. Bedtimes change and sleep patterns may be affected. The loss of a parent may mean taking care of the other parent and after the second parent passes, trying to understand the feelings associated with losing your place in the world as an adult child. Then there is the task of rethinking oneself and asking the question, "Who am I now that my loved one is gone?"
Seeking support and knowledge by joining a grief group can build a bridge between the life that is gone and the one that can be formulated through hard emotional work and the willingness to be vulnerable. It is comforting to know that even in the face of loss, one is not alone, and that there are others who understand. Perhaps even more importantly, it is helpful to understand grief as the normal but difficult response to a loss.