Our chat this week comes from the world of grief education. In my day job, I am a certified grief educator and professional coach which means I am always looking for new ways to share grief literacy and share what might be new information to those who are grieving or supporting grievers. Our content today comes from my own education work with grief author and therapist David Kessler. In his decades working with the grieving, he has identified six basic needs that, when met, can lead to a healthy and integrated healing process.
So in his work, David Kessler identified 6 needs and today we’re going to walk through all six of those things just briefly. My intention is not for you to have a checklist to be able to say that OK now I should heal because I’ve met all six of these needs. My intention is for you to become more aware of the ways you might express what you need or look for opportunities to meet those needs either through your own actions or by inviting the actions of people who love and care for you intentionally into your life.
The first need is to have your pain witnessed. We know that grief is intense and isolating, so we need to give ourselves permission to acknowledge our loss and to invite someone else to acknowledge it with us. Having a witness to our pain doesn’t mean we allow someone to fix it or bring in all their advice. It means we are allowing vulnerability to admit that we need to feel seen.
This is a very normal process that gets weird when the person witnessing tries to repair or comfort without permission. We don’t want someone to come with an agenda. We want them to meet us where we are, right here and right now, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for them. Offering our witness or holding space for another person can create meaningful, quiet moments in a friendship. You don’t have to worry about saying the right thing. Often you don’t have to worry about saying anything at all.
If you’ve been invited to bear witness to someone’s pain, consider it an honor. Treat it as such, as you truly are on sacred ground when you recognize this nuanced and complex part of our humanity and offer compassion instead of correction.
The second need of the griever is to express their emotions. When people are bearing witness to our grief, it can be frustrating to feel like they can’t handle our big emotions. Phrases like, “Calm down! It’s going to be okay,” or “God will get you through this” become dismissive platitudes that serve only to tell the griever that the person speaking is not capable of hearing their emotions.
As a point of clarity here, I’m using the word emotions but often you will hear people interchange emotions and feelings. In the restorative grief model, we give credence to the fact that our body experiences a physical manifestation, or a feeling, while our emotional state can be witnessed through thought or an expression of our heart. If you’re not quite sure what I mean, I’ll include a link in the show notes for you. But think of the feeling of tiredness. Tired is not an emotional state – it is a feeling that impacts our emotional state.
Regardless of how we talk about it, grievers need to feel freedom to explore the power and impact of the emotional states and feelings they experience without shame, shoulding, or prescriptive language. When we offer that permission to connect to a griever, we are often handing them a lifeline.
The third need of the griever is to release the burden of guilt. Guilt and grief are often bedfellows, as we naturally wish we could press rewind to repair our relationships where we veered off-course. This can partner with the bargaining or “What If” moment in grief, where we trick our brains into believing we are still able to control some part of this external process of death or loss.
Grief is nothing we can control, but living in a mental space that uses a negative or harmful narrative to survive is not healing. If you find you are existing in a space of guilt or you are placing guilt, shame, or accusation on a griever for the state they are in, then offer the simple question of whether or not the thought or behavior is helpful or harmful. This is often an approachable question even for the most disconnected griever to then be faced with a choice and some autonomy – which is one of the very things we’ve lost when we begin to grieve.
The fourth need of the griever is to be free of old wounds. In my work as a grief professional and educator, I aim to invite grievers to be present with the little nudges they experience as they grieve. There are many moments we experience as we begin processing our losses that can seem to come out of left field. Sometimes we find ourselves thinking about an event from 20 years earlier and realize we never gave it the compassion and attention it deserved.
While we do not need to revisit a trauma in order to metabolize the experience and operate in healing through the old wounds we can begin to ask the question, “What happened to me?” This allows us to develop self compassion, curiosity, and recognize where we deserve to also bring healing into the story of our past. Allowing the past self to experience forgiveness and healing even decades later allows us to move differently and with more intention for the grief we carry today.
The fifth need of the griever is to integrate the pain and the love. Integration includes acceptance but that’s not the only part we need as we heal. This is an incremental, slow but steady process of recognizing the both/and of grief. We can be both devastated and grateful; heartsick and comforted.
This is where intentional and skilled witnessing plays a huge part in healing. The griever who is given space to experience the complexity, to question the nuance, and to explore the possibilities is learning that they can be guided into wholeness without setting their heavy parts aside. Healing from grief doesn’t mean we no longer think about our grief experience, or that we forget about the big feelings, emotions, or griefy thoughts that come our way. Healing from grief means we have integrated the experience holistically in a way that allows us to continue our lives with intention and compassion for the next grief experience when it arrives.
The sixth and final need of the griever is to find meaning after a loss. Again, this goes back to having skilled witnesses and supporters as you navigate what your life looks like now. Meaning doesn’t come from everyone agreeing that you’re doing a good job as you grieve. In the restorative grief model, you probably know by now that meaning is found where you create it.
The values with which we guide our lives are the same values that can guide our grief process. We look for opportunities to explore life, the both/and nuance, and we use our values to determine what would be meaningful and feel supportive for us in this current season of life.
As time passes, the meanings we ascribe to different circumstances will change. We are deciding moment to moment how we want to navigate our losses, and each choice creates meaning for us.
So the more time we spend intentionally noticing our behaviors and expressions, and reflecting on them for our benefit, the more easily we will answer the question, “Is this helpful or harmful?” and find what is truly meaningful for us.
Thank you for listening to episode 88 of Restorative Grief. When I became a Certified Grief Educator through David’s program, I assumed the course would be full of other grief professionals like myself or budding grief professionals ready to affect change in their community. But the truth is, the majority of people were grievers just looking for a lifeline of their own. We are all trying to heal. Some do well in large group settings and some need one on one attention – but we all need to know that what we experience will not be in vain.
If this is your first time listening to Restorative Grief, I hope you feel something stirring inside. Grief work is difficult, but not impossible, because you’re not doing it alone – no matter what you think. If you’re interested in a larger community of people to talk about loss and grief, consider joining The Restorative Grief Project, which is my free online coaching group or become a Patron of the show to join our quarterly live chats on Discord. The links for both of those and more are in the show notes, or you can always come find me on social media under @MandyCapehart. I’d love to hear from you and hopefully, learn a little more about who you are and what you’re experiencing in your grief story, too.
And as always, one last thing. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources for this episode:
- Learn more about David Kessler’s work at Grief.com
- Emotions vs. Feelings – What’s the Difference?
- Work with Mandy – MandyCapehart.com/coaching
- Become a Patron of the show!
- Join the Restorative Grief Project
- Purchase my book, Restorative Grief
- Follow & chat with me on Twitter or Instagram @MandyCapehart