Monday, October 3, 2011

"The Journey Through Grief" by Alan D. Wolfert

AUTHOR: Alan D. Wolfelt
PUBLISHER: Fort Collins, CO: Companion Press, 2003.

The Journey Through Grief: Reflections on HealingThis book is a very helpful guide to grieving and mourning. Recognizing the angst and pain behind loss and suffering, the author begins with a gentle understanding of grieving in two ways. Firstly, he recognizes that grieving is inner expression of emotions while mourning is an outward demonstration.  The importance if mourning and grieving cannot be underestimated because it is central to healing. Secondly, he makes a plea toward heart-based comfort rather than head-based answers.

"... another important lesson I have learned is that healing in grief is heart-based, not head-based. Modern therapies sometimes separate the head from the heart; it's as if we should somehow be able to rationally think through our grief." (1)

The way to help the heart is via "6 yield signs." The needs are numbered as:
  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death.
  2. Embracing the pain of the loss.
  3. Remembering the person who died.
  4. Developing a new self-identity.
  5. Searching for meaning.
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others.

One self-help recommendation is that the grieving person journal his/her emotions. The author claims that through journaling, grievers can clarify their thoughts and feelings; freedom and safety to express oneself truthfully; and to be able to strengthen one's sense of 'self-awareness.' He refers back to studies that says such actions can help one to be 'healthier physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.'

My Comments

True to his beliefs stated, the book is written in a manner that is brief, reflective, and open. Advice is given with ample opportunities to journal and to reflect. It follows the 6 yield signs that clearly depicts grieving as a necessary journey to healing. Unlike self-help books that focus on the techniques and the science behind the techniques, this book shows a profound understanding of the human heart and the grieving condition. While death is common, every grieving process is unique. Here are some more of the quotes that I find especially meaningful.

  • "While embracing the reality of this death is painful beyond words, the more I open myself to allowing small doses of reality in, the more I open my heart to healing." (Need 1, p12)
  • "The head, the heart and the soul must all come to embrace the reality of the death. It is the soul that gives life to the head and heart. I may know the reality of the death in my head, but I must also let it sift down into my heart and soul. This is between me and my God." (Need 1, p20)
  • "In committing myself to my grief work, my mind may respond with fear and resistance. If I allow this resistance to overpower me, I will cut off the force that will ultimately help me heal." (Need 1, p21)
  • "In part, grief work means surrendering to something more powerful than myself. Without surrender there is no change in this pain I feel. As I give in, I begin to breathe in new life." (Need 2, p34)
  • "Trying to protect myself by denying my pain will only lead to more pain. I need to be honest with myself about my feelings and my needs." (Need 2, p35)
  • "Sometimes I may react to the pain of grief with anger. Over time and with supportive companions, I come to see my pain not as a curse placed on me but as a necessary response to my loss. My pain is a symptom of the need to turn toward myself and seek understanding. How can I learn to see my pain as friend, not foe" (Need 2, p42)
  • "I don't have to go in search of the pain of grief - it finds me. It's when I deny or insulate myself from the pain of the loss that I shut down. Ironically, it is in being open to the pain that I move through it to renewed living." (Need 2, p42)
  • "Remembering the person I have loved allows me to slowly heal. Healing does not mean I will forget. Actually, it means I will remember. Gently, I will move forward, never forgetting my past." (Need 3, p51)
  • "I realize my memories are like deeply rooted flowers, grounded in beauty and embraced by nature. Just as flowers instinctively grow and flourish, so too can my memories." (Need 3, p54)
  • "I can release the pain that touches my memories, but only if I remember them. I can release my grief, but only if I express it. Memories and grief must have a heart to hold them." (Need 3, p65)
  • "Many people discover that as they work on this need, they ultimately discover some positive aspects of their changed self-identity. You may develop a renewed confidence in yourself, for example. You may develop a more caring, kind and sensitive part of yourself. You may develop an assertive part of your identity that empowers you to go on living even though you continue to feel a sense of loss." (Need 4, p74)
  • "Part of healing in grief requires that I listen to myself - to slow down, to turn inward, to feel what I must feel. Going into neutral ultimately helps me encounter joy." (Need 4, p79)
  • "A vital part of healing my identity is only a walk away. Solitary hikes through the woods, no need to get someplace, no rewards for speed - simply going away - this is the heart of retreat and renewal." (Need 4, p86)
  • "Part of discovering my new self has been learning to listen, not talk. Turning inward requires a silence, a quietness - not only on the outside, but on the inside. I just keep listening until I hear something. Patience brings discovery of a new me. And as I listen, I begin to life what I hear." (Need 4, p87)
  • "Where I am in the grief journey alters how I see myself, my expectations, my dreams, my hopes. The time I have already been mourning has created a changed 'I.' Perhaps, I need to adjust my personal self-expectations so they reflect where I am right now." (Need 4, p90)
  • "The death of someone I love makes me examine where I am right now, today. The freshness of this death has the potential of freeing me from my focus on more time and inspires me to use this time." (Need 5, p101)
  • "I must encounter my questions, my doubts, my fears. There is richness in these domains. As I explore them I don't reinforce my tensions but instead release them. In this way I transcend my grief and discover new life beyond anything my heart could ever have comprehended. Oh the gentleness of new life." (Need 5, p105)
  • "I cannot 'think through' my grief journey. Intellectual concepts often serve to obstruct me from myself. Unless I can cross the bridge to my heart, I will never wake up and be transformed. To truly heal, I must become aware of my emotional and spiritual selves. I must not be distracted from peeling myself away and cultivating a true inner awareness." (Need 5, p107)
  • "My grief journey has no one destination. I will not 'get over it.' The understanding that I don't have to be done is liberating. I will mourn this death for the rest of my life." (Need 5, p110)
  • "To find meaning in continued living, I must open my heart and invite God in. He is there - waiting. Patiently waiting day after day. It is my openness to God that transcends my grief and transports my soul." (Need 5, p113)
  • "Finding meaning in my grief and mourning is real work. As I discover my changed self, I experience uncertainty, disorientation, fear and even a newfound vulnerability. This experience challenges my assumptions about my world and myself. the pain of loss teaches me so much about myself. It teaches me about the gift of loving and being loved. I must hold up this realization and honor it." (Need 5, p114)
  • "Working on my grief could be considered soul work. Death causes me to become more intimate with myself, others, and the world around me. This journey is an education of my soul, and is manifested in the unfolding of new ways of seeing the world around me." (Need 5, p117)
  • "Experiencing my grief is far more demanding that I ever imagined. Yet, I have discovered I have the capacity to convert the pain into purposeful expression by helping others. I will reach out to at least one person each day. As I help others, I also help myself." (Need 5, p124)
  • "To be truly helpful, the people in your support system must appreciate the impact this death has had on you. They must understand that in order to heal, you must be allowed - even encouraged - to mourn long after the death. And they must encourage you to see mourning not as an enemy to be vanquished but as a necessity to be experienced as a result of having loved." (Need 6, p131)
  • "I need not instinctively know what to do or how to be with my grief. I can reach out to others who have walked this path before. I learn that to ultimately heal, I must touch and be touched by the experiences of those who have gone before me. These people can offer me hope, inner strength, and the gift of love." (Need 6, p136)
  • "The secret to healing in grief is very clear: the love and support of people who surround me with compassion. It is an acceptance of this love that engages my desire to go on living." (Need 6, p137)
  • "I heal, in part, by allowing others to express their love for me. By choosing to invite others into my journey, I move toward health and healing. If I hide from others, I hide from healing." (Need 6, p)
  • "Very simply, if I want to live again, I must seek support, understanding and guidance. Being lost doesn't mean I have to stay lost." (Need 6, p140)
  • "As I experience my grief, I'm pulled to be both alone and together with others. I realize I need both. The beauty of it is that I have discovered I can embrace both needs. One does not preclude the other. What an important revelation!" (Need 6, p145)
The final part of the book touches on three important considerations for real growth. Firstly, growing means to have a 'new inner balance' without 'end points.' Secondly, it means learning to explore one's 'assumptions about life.' Thirdly, it means one learns to utilize one's potentials.

This is clearly one of the best books to talk about grieving as a journey.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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