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The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey

Lesson 1 - Introduction: The First Year of Grief
By Marty Tousley

Moment of Reflection

We open today's lesson with two readings found on

The Pain of Loss

Funeral Blues: W.H. Auden

"Grief will make a new person out of you, if it doesn't kill you in the making."

~ Stephanie Ericsson

Dear Friend,

Welcome to this grief healing course. As you take the first steps on this grief journey of yours, do you feel as if your destination is unclear?

Do you know the length of your trip?

Do you know how long it will take you to get there?

As you find your way through your grief experience, you will discover that there is no right or wrong way to do the work of mourning.

There is only your way, and you must discover it for yourself. There is no magic formula, no short cut, and no easy way out. It is as if you are inside a long, winding tunnel whose entrance is closed behind you, and the only way out is through.

Will this awful pain you feel ever end?

Loss creates an emotional wound, but it is an injury that can be healed. With help and understanding, the pain of loss can be transformed into a challenging new beginning, and your grief experience can become a healthy, positive and healing process.

Why not just wait it out?

To make the process of mourning a healing one, you must go through it actively, which means moving through it thoughtfully and deliberately. Expressed grief can be worked with and released, but suppressed grief torments you in ways you cannot control.

Healthy, normal mourning is a process of honestly facing the reality of your loss and coming to terms with its impact on your life. You learn to access all available resources for recovery, find meaning in your loss, and continue to live productively in the years that follow.

"How can I go on when so much in my life has changed? With no control over any of it?"

Every loss is a challenge to grow. Growth requires change, and change is often painful. When a loved one dies, everything changes, including you. Nothing is ever the same again.

But you will find that in fact you do have some control, especially over the choices you make. You alone decide whether the changes you face are positive or negative ones. You can choose how you respond to grief and how you let it affect you. You can keep both your memories of the past and your dreams for the future, and decide not to give up on yourself and the rest of your life.

What can you expect in the first year of grief?

  • Death of a loved one is a highly stressful event, and the first year of bereavement can be especially intense and difficult.

  • You must face and live through each of the four seasons for the first time without the physical presence of your loved one.

  • All of the major and secondary losses attached to this death are realized and felt anew as you confront each important holiday, birthday and anniversary - including the first anniversary of the day your loved one died.

  • Over and over again, through an entire year's cycle of events, you feel flooded with waves of loss and may fear that you are drowning.

  • Many aspects of life as you knew it are irrevocably changed: your daily schedule, your social life, your roles and responsibilities, your financial situation, your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

How do you know if what you are feeling is normal?

Certain feelings and reactions in grief are normal, universal and predictable. But how you experience them - and for how long - is uniquely personal and distinct.

Grief is a normal yet highly personal response to loss. Neither an illness nor a pathological condition, it is a natural process that, depending on how it is managed, can lead to healing and personal growth.

Although the experience is unique for each individual, finding your way through it successfully requires some knowledge and understanding of the grief process and the work of mourning.

If you've had little or no experience with bereavement, you may be caught off guard and feel totally unprepared to deal with it when it happens to you. Not knowing what to expect, you may wonder whether your reactions are normal and dread what might be coming next.

When you're armed with an understanding of grief, however, and know what feelings and experiences you can normally expect, you are able to face what lies ahead more readily.

Suggested Resources

Do you need additional guidance, support or information?
Click link(s) below to order, access or learn more about resource.

This lesson's suggested resources:

You are invited to visit Marty's website.

Grief Healing Message Board
Consider posting a message about your loved one on the this forum. This forum is moderated by Marty Tousley.

Tools for Healing ~ Coming to Terms with Grief Grieving is hard work. Below find grief support suggestions to nurture and comfort your mind, body and spirit as you go through the mourning process...

KTOE Life After Loss ~ Radio Interview with Marty Tousley AM 1420 Information Radio Marty discusses dealing with grief the first year and beyond. She also discusses her online S-HE grief courses.

Including Your Absent Loved One in Family Celebrations Article By Marty Tousley -- with printable Holiday Candle Lighting Service by Sherry Williams. Holidays and special days can be especially difficult for those coming to terms with the absence of a loved one. Even if you wish to pretend otherwise, the person who died will be on your mind -- and on the minds of others -- on special days such as holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. Far better to create a time, a ritual or a ceremony that recognizes your loss and allows the expression of grief...

Explaining The Funeral / Memorial Service to Your Children Online article by Marty Tousley If this is your family_s first experience with death, you may be wondering how and even whether to include your children in the rituals of grief and mourning for the person who has died. You may have many questions about how best to meet your children_s needs at such a sad and difficult time. This article is intended to help you answer some of those questions...

Closing Thoughts

Finding your way through your first year of grief takes great courage. It may comfort you to remember that since the beginning of time, people have survived the most devastating of losses. Whatever loss confronts you, know that you can survive.

Next Lesson

Our next lesson begins exploring what you need to know about grief.

Wishing you peace and healing, Marty and

Your Friends at Self-Healing Expressions

Course Number 8; Lesson Number 1

About this Author

Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC is a hospice bereavement counselor helping people find their way through grief following the death of a family member. She joined Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona as a bereavement counselor in 1996, and now serves as moderator for its online Grief Healing Discussion Groups, As a volunteer with the Halton-Peel Pet Loss Support Group in Ontario, Canada and the Pet Grief Support Service in Phoenix, AZ, she also works with bereaved animal lovers, both individually and in groups, and consults with veterinary clinics to foster greater understanding of pet loss among staff members, thereby building better helping relationships with grieving clients. A frequent contributor to healthcare journals, newsletters and magazines for the lay public, she has written several articles and book chapters in the professional nursing and medical literature, and has authored four publications addressing various aspects of loss and grief. Her award-winning Internet Web site, offers information, comfort and support to anyone who is anticipating or mourning the loss of a loved one, whether human or animal. Marty can be reached via e-mail at

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