The Burden of Grief

Saul Ebema, DMin.

The natural human response to any loss is to mourn the loss. Mourning a death gives people room to express their feelings associated with the death. Such feelings as, anger, guilt, and abandonment when expressed can lead to healing and restoration. Parkes and Weiss identified “three basic tasks of grief”[1]

  1. Emancipation from the bondage of the deceased. This involves ‘letting go’ of the ties that bind the survivor to the deceased so that new friendships and relationships can be established.
  2. Formulation of new relationships. This involves beginning new meaningful relationships without the deceased. The person who has lost a husband or wife can begin to date a gain.
  3. Re-adjustment to the environment without the deceased. This involves adjusting to the world without the deceased.

Grief and mourning is a process that takes some time and there may be times when those who are grieving forget and act as if the deceased is still alive. There are a lot of emotional symptoms that accompany normal grief and these may include but not limited to;

  • Crying, fatigue, inability to sleep.
  • Feeling of emptiness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Loss of weight
  • Nervousness and tension.
  • Physical exhaustion.
  • Tendency to sigh.
  • Restlessness and anxiety.

Clearly, depending on its length, grief can be either helpful or harmful to the mourners. Early counseling intervention can help deal with grief and reduce any chances of the grief from becoming complicated.

Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory Grief is defined as “any grief occurring prior to a loss, as distinguished from the grief that occurs at or after a loss.”[2] Terminally ill patients also experience anticipatory grief but this term is mainly used for the families and friends of the terminally ill. Rando notes “four aspects of anticipatory grief[3]”:

  1. Depression.
  2. Heightened concern for the terminally ill patient.
  3. Rehearsal of the death
  4. Attempts to adjust to the consequences of the death

Anticipatory Grief also has the following symptoms

  • Denial of the death happening
  • Exhaustion and general fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Forgetfulness
  • Disorganized and confused behavior,
  • Anger
  • Anxiety and dread
  • Feeling disconnected and alone
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Sleep problems

Grief becomes more differentiated and focused with time. “The acute emotional pain characteristics of the early reactions become more tempered melancholy, accompanied by articulation and evaluation of the impending loss.

This mellowing of grief occurs simultaneously with an increase in reconciliation, detachment, and memorialization.”[4] However, sometimes at the time of death, the grief deepens. Anticipatory grief can also stir up feelings that will lead to complicated grief after the death. Pastoral counseling during times of anticipatory grief can prevent problems in mourning from developing.


[1]Colin M. Parkes and Robert S. Weiss, Recovery from Bereavement (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1983), 25.

[2]Helen Fitzgerald, The mourning handbook: A complete guide for the bereaved (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 45.

[3] Rando, Grief, Dying and Death, 37.

[4] Bernard Schoenberg, Psychosocial Aspects of Terminal Care (New York, NY: Columbia University Press. 1972), 56.

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