RESPONSES TO LOSS
Several psychologists and grief researchers have studied the grief process and attempted to describe stages of bereavement, primarily in adults (Kubler-Ross, 1969; Rando, 1991). No two individuals grieve in exactly the same way, however. This is especially true with young people, who are at varying levels of cognitive and emotional development. Regardless of the need to accept individual differences, there are some generalities that can be used as a framework for understanding dealing with a loss. TOLA considers 4 main tasks or stages in bereavement and uses these as guidelines in working with young people:
We can think of this as the 4 R’s:
Recognition: The griever needs to recognize the loss, and this process involves understanding. What exactly is death? Children may need specific information in order to face reality and comprehend what has happened in their lives. Many people are in denial after a loss occurs, but recognizing and defining events is the crucial first step in bereavement.
Reaction: Grief elicits a variety of emotions, including sadness, anger, fear, and guilt. Bereaved people need a safe place in which to express these feelings. Children may need help identifying their conflicting reactions. Many young people are overwhelmed with the intensity of their emotions and are reluctant to express them for various reasons. The need for catharsis is real and vital to the healing process.
Re-experience: This process can take several forms depending on the individual. Much of re-experience means that the lost loved one is remembered and mourned. Recollections of time spent together, especially positive memories, can reassure a young person that their person will live on their memory. Sometimes, if a child has dissociated emotionally after a loss, the child may naturally try to reenact the trauma of learning that a loved one died. Children may need to reprocess the loss in order to move forward.
Readjustment: The bereaved individual eventually needs to rebuild a life without the loved one. This process is highly individualized and depends on the circumstances of the loss; however, at this point the griever will have some level of acceptance and will be on the path of re-investing in life. This is not the end of the grieving process, but it is the first step in understanding that life goes on despite pain and loss.