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Loss Grief and Bereavement - Adaptation Or Resolution

family normal grieving emotional recognition

Questions often arise as to how long grief lasts and how it is resolved. It is a mistaken assumption that grief has an ending point and that one will return to a prior state of "normal." Media-orchestrated virtual grief experienced by consumers who go through the rituals of mourning in front of their televisions or computer screens provides an illusion of intimacy and produces an emotional response without the depth of pain experienced in actual grief. Because recovery from virtual grief is quick, individuals may become less sensitive to the extent of time actually required for grieving.

Actual grief can occur as "emotional shock waves" (Bowen 1976) that ebb and flow for years after a loss, and even be transmitted across the generations in a family. Children and adults can experience regrief as a revisiting of a significant loss at each new developmental stage (Oltjenbruns 2001) or as reverberating losses in the form of recurrent memories triggered by new major life events. Studies have failed to identify any discernible sequence of emotional phases that lead to adaptation to loss, nor can they identify any clear endpoint to grieving that would constitute a state of recovery (Neimeyer 2001). Rather than a return to a prior state of "normal," one experiences a new normal based on one's new situation, altered identity, and reconstructed meanings of life and loss.

With increased awareness that bonds continue after a loss and that one does not recover from grief, the focus of grief therapy is also shifting away from relinquishing attachments and toward meaning-making and meaning-finding in the loss. There is a growing recognition that grieving is nearly always complicated (Attig 2001), and that some behaviors or thoughts that would be described as pathological at other times may be normal reactions to the abnormal situation of loss. An emphasis on universal syndromes of grieving has been replaced with a recognition of cultural relativity, focus on family patterns and processes by which loss is negotiated, implications of loss for one's sense of identity, and potential for post-traumatic growth.


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