Grief: Getting Over or Getting Through?

Grief is experienced in so many different ways. When a loved one or friend dies, one may feel as though they have to “get over” the death as a part of the grieving process. However, this narrative of grief as “getting over” can be limiting and damaging. We “get over” a cold, the flu and other illnesses. Grief is not an illness or an ailment; grief is a psychological and social process integral to the human experience. “Healing” and “working through” are more inclusive and positive ways of conceptualizing grief as we experience it.

At the West Virginia Family Grief Center, the emphasis is on support and healing, not on “getting over” your grief. According to several bodies of academic research, some of the best ways to promote children’s healing through grief is using arts and crafts, story-telling, writing, and reading, music, and play therapy. Children, especially very young children, tend to be more active than verbal when working through their grief. At the WVFGC, the support groups use a variety of these activities to encourage children and teens to talk about their loved one, their family, and their experience with grief. In my first week at the WVFGC, I witnessed several excited little ones decorate cupcakes with the theme of “celebrations” for their group activity. The children shared stories about celebrations such as birthdays or family Christmas gatherings and how they were different after their loved one passed away. The positive interaction with each other through storytelling as well as the fun (and delicious) activity allowed the children to discuss a tough subject in a productive and empowering way.

This illustrates just one example of children’s grieving process and how they can be strengthened through their grief. The children and families at the West Virginia Family Grief Center are not “getting over” grief or the loss of a loved one. They are working hard with a huge, supportive family of volunteers and staff to heal from their pain. As Robert Frost once penned, “The best way out is always through.”