WW14 August 17, 2016: “Getting Over It” is Never the Goal in Loss

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Here is your bi-monthly Wednesday Wisdom series from the Family Assistance
Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D. and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., fafonline.org. Reprint is available
with written permission from the Foundation.

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Integration is the goal of healthy grief—no such thing as "getting over it.

Family members who are grieving the loss of a loved one are frequently asked,
“When are you going to get over the loss of your daughter?” (son, husband, etc.)
Well-meaning friends often say things like, “He has never gotten over the loss of
his son.” One flight attendant’s mother, whose daughter died in a non-survivable
crash where there were no intact remains for burial, returned to her workplace a few
weeks after her daughter’s memorial service. A coworker asked her if she had
gotten over her daughter’s death yet. The mother replied, “No, she is still dead.
So, no, I am not over it yet.”

For those of us who educate and train others on how to best support and assist
grieving people, it is helpful if we teach responders to use more healthy terms
and phrases when communicating about such tragic events. The goal for all
who grieve is integration. Healthy grief involves integration of the experience.
Getting over the loss of someone we love is never a goal—we strive to remember
all we can about them and their life on earth.

Used in this context, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines integration as:
coordination of mental processes into a normal effective personality or with the

A well-meaning person who wishes to be helpful to someone who is grieving
would do better to listen as they speak about their loved one, assist them with
practical needs, and support them as they move into their new life without the
physical presence of the deceased.

In Family Assistance or Care Team programs, the many tasks that are offered
the newly bereaved play a major role in helping them begin integration in the
first few days. Providing information about what has happened, and how
they can and will receive information about an investigation as it progresses,
plays a major role in helping a family member start out on the right track.
Information gives people power over their emotions, and this is a key in long-term
integration of loss.

Other helpful tasks include options to visit the site of the tragedy when possible,
meet with other family members who also lost loved ones in the same disaster,
as well as meet company employees, agency officials, and other responders
whose work involves assisting the families.  Over time, all of these experiences
become part of the integration process, which cannot be rushed and has no
timetable. It takes time for survivors to build a new life with the deceased no longer
physically present. Healthy mourning results in a permanent spiritual relationship
with the deceased.

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Well-orchestrated logistical planning plays a major role in a family’s integration of
the loss. In addition to providing communication through phone lines, assisting
with site visits, and opportunities to meet and interact with other families, holding
memorial services is a major contribution to helping survivors move
forward—particularly the one-year anniversary memorial.

Interviews with families show that the opportunity to come together at the end of
the first year in a dedication service is crucial to healing. For many, it reminds them
that they have survived the first year of their loss. When asked to describe what
it meant to attend the first year’s anniversary memorial, survivors have used
words like “transformative” and other terms that underscore the value of such
experiences in the integration of their losses.

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