Transformation of Grief through Meaning: Meaning-Centered Counseling for Bereavement

Jul 1, 2008 | Articles

Introduction

Grief is an inevitable, universal experience, more commonly experienced than death. So much of life is about loss. Going through life is to endure a series of losses, which include the loss of health, roles, identity, homeland, and loved ones through betrayal or death. Grief is the normal emotional response to loss, a response all too familiar to us. This chapter focuses on bereavement grief and its transformation through meaning.

As we grow and age, we grieve the yesterdays and all that entails – the lost loves and missed opportunities, the good friends and broken relationships, the gains and the losses, the good times and the bad. We remember, therefore, we grieve. But in grieving, we relive what has been lost in time and space.

Our capacity for anticipation creates another set of challenges. For every relationship, there is separation. For every beginning, there is an end. For every embrace, there is a goodbye. We can anticipate death for ourselves and for our loved ones. We can feel the pain and void of anticipatory bereavement. Thus, we mourn for tomorrows as well as yesterdays.

The first important thing about bereavement grief is that it is importantly based on bonding: the stronger the attachment, the greater the grief. Since it is not possible to avoid all relationships and attachments, there is no escape from grief. We all have experienced bereavement grief. Children’s first experience of bereavement grief may come from the death of their pets, or the death of a grandparent.

Those blessed with longevity are burdened with multiple losses as they outlive their friends and loved ones. Those who strongly cling to their love as if their life depends on it would also suffer intensely when they lose them through death or separation. The experiences of bereavement grief vary from one individual to another, because it depends on the unique nature of the relationship, past history, as well as one’s attitudes toward life and death. However, in spite of these individual differences, there are some common processes. This chapter will examine the processes that contribute to good grief—the potential for personal growth and positive transformation through grief.

Grief is such an intimate and yet strange wasteland. Even though we are well acquainted with loss, we still do not know how to face it with ease and equanimity. Part of the problem is that it is difficult to separate death anxiety about one’s own mortality, and worries about financial consequences from grieving the loss of a loved one. The impact of grief can be very intensive and extensive, because it touches almost every aspect of one’s life

The battle against postmortem grief is often fought on two fronts—internal and external. Internally, apart from the emotional tumult, mental disorientation, and flooded memories, the death of a loved one may also trigger an existential crisis and a spiritual quest. Therefore, religious and philosophical beliefs play a role in the grieving and recovery process.

Externally, the bereaved often has to take care of the aftermath of the death of a loved one and cope with the many demands of life. Funeral arrangements, settling the estates, taking care of the personal effects of the deceased, dealing with relatives and re-igniting past conflicts are all concomitant stressors. Another external source of stress comes from colliding cultures. Conflicting cultural prescriptions for funeral rites and mourning rituals can become a fertile ground for conflict, especially when family members involve inter-racial marriages and different religious practices. Thus, death may divide rather than unite the family.

This is a draft of the chapter published as Wong, P. T. P. (2008). Transformation of grief through meaning: Meaning-centered counseling for bereavement. In A. Tomer, G. T. Eliason, & P. T. P. Wong (Eds.), Existential and spiritual issues in death attitudes (pp. 375-396). New York, NY: Erlbaum.

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