Challenges on The Grief Journey

As human beings we feel we are in control of ourselves, our life, our situations and sometimes even others. When a death occurs we feel a sense of helplessness, for we cannot change the situation. This feeling of powerless often leads us to experience four of the most difficult challenges of the entire process.


Guilt is a common component of the grieving process which occurs when a person assumes some responsibility for the loss. We may blame ourselves for what has happened and for not being able to avoid the circumstance. Guilt is often expressed in “should” and “if only” statements. We may feel we “should” have done certain things, and even others may transfer these expectations on us. “If onlys” are base on the usually false assumption that “if I had tried harder, things would have been different”. Our “if only” tries to take us bask to a time when something could or someone should have changed the situation, giving us some sense of control and power. But because we didn’t do that thing we may seek to punish ourselves through guilt. In such a situation, we need to remind ourselves that hindsight is always 20/20. You did your best with the limited information you had at the time, although in the light of what has happened you might act differently now. We need to come to the place of forgiving ourselves, most of all just for being human, with all our limitations and shortcomings.


Anger is also related to a feeling of helplessness. Sometimes anger is regarded as an unwelcome intrusion into our lives. Others may tell us that we should not be angry, that we should simply accept what happens. However, anger is also a protest against loss. That we may vent our frustration on those closest to us and who least deserve the burden is the greatest risk of anger. We may feel angry with the doctors or medical staff whom we feel could have done more. We may feel irritated with the funeral director, the clergy, friends, family and indeed anyone else who crosses our path. Yet anger is normal and needs to be expressed.

Be careful to recognize the real source of anger. You are angry because you have been left. You have every right to feel angry: focus your anger in the right direction in order not to hurt yourself or others. Channelling your anger into determination can help you make choices and gain a sense of personal control.


Depression is a normal part of the grieving process. There are many kinds of depression and this complicated topic cannot be adequately discussed in a short paragraph. Many of the symptoms of depression are similar to those of the grief process: Sadness, hopelessness, abandonment, increased dependency, fatigue, lack of concentration, inability to make decisions, loss of interest in work or hobbies that formerly brought pleasure, feelings of inadequacy, hostility, irritability and feelings of meaninglessness. Because your depression is likely a reaction to loss, you can find relief by dealing with and working through these symptoms. By accepting the reality and expressing the feelings of grief, resolution will follow. The expression, not the repression, of your feelings and thoughts allows positive emotions to emerge again. Nonetheless, depression is a complicated topic which merits discussion with your medical doctor or a counsellor.


Recently I visited a gentleman whose wife had died after sixty-six years of marriage. Their relationship in the final years was hindered by illness and disability. On the surface it seemed they had not had a meaningful relationship for many years. Yet through his tears he told men, “The worst thing about this is the absence of her presence”. Loneliness comes because something familiar is missing from our lives. Sometimes the feelings reflect the absence of a person, other times they relate to the absence of a sense of well-being or a lack of self-esteem. We all depend on various human relationships in our lives, from infancy to old age. Whether or not we have these in reality, we are affected by the expectation.

A simple answer to this very complex problem is the need to develop a relationship with your self. This is the only true and lasting solution to loneliness. If you can come to the place where you feel content and secure while alone with yourself, you will have come to terms with loneliness.

You have lost someone you care about. You miss them desperately. Their absence affects your life in ways that only you can know. When you can accept that you will be okay even without this relationship, you will find that things will start to get better.

These complicated issues are not easy to resolve. A support group or a grief counsellor can help you work through some of these issues.

How to Help Myself

  1. Admit the reality of loss
    “Well, of course I’ve had a loss,” you may be thinking. Many times people try to move us away from the loss. They may in all sincerity use the statements:Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise or Maybe it’s for the best.You may find yourself thinking, “If it is a blessing, it is a jolly good disguise”. As for “being for the best”, you may feel it to be the worst thing that could have happened. Such statements, however well-intentioned, try to move us away from our feeling of loss. If something is considered a blessing, it is still a loss. We need to face up to the reality that “I’ve had a loss”, which is not easy in our modern culture. This realization leads to the most difficult part of the grieving process.
  2. Experience the pain of grief
    We are never excited about pain. Most of us do everything possible to avoid it. We like everything painless. And while we might acknowledge “no pain, no gain”, the truth is that many try to find an easier way. Grief is painful. It hurts to lose someone you cared about. For all the cliches and all the brave fronts people put forward, we need to realize that we cannot lose someone we care about without experiencing some level of pain. There is no easy way around it or over it: we must work our way through it. Drugs or alcohol may seem like a way to deaden the pain, but they merely delay the reaction. Pain is a gift that warns us of danger. If hurting is a part of healing, we must not ignore or suppress it. Your pain shows your need to attend to the healing of your broken heart. Yet the pain will not last forever. Grief has a way of easing off and soon the intensity of the pain will not be so severe.

When Someone You Care About Dies
by Dr. Bill Webster