TIPS & TOOLS, Article 5: "Graduate from Grief"

TIPS & TOOLS, Article 5: "Graduate from Grief"

Tips & Tools

Posted on April 14, 2020 by Joe Brouillette


Graduate from Grief

Grief is the process of putting back together the pieces of a broken heart—a hole so deep in the middle of your heart that you think it will never stop hurting.

You’re hurting; you've suffered a loss; you've survived the death of a loved one or a relationship; you've lost your job; you've lost your identity or reputation; you've lost your money; you've lost your home; you are scared, hurt, confused, and you don't know what to do....

Welcome to grief, the completely normal, appropriate emotional response to loss. You feel it emotionally, physically, mentally, and behaviorally. It comes in waves and it won’t go away. (At least, that is what you think.) 

Everyone grieves differently; there is no right or wrong way to grieve. And you will get through it; most people do. But contrary to popular opinion…


Time, alone, does not heal a broken heart. 


You will graduate from grief when you decide to do so.

Along the way, there will be many obstacles that make it difficult to grieve, among them:

  1. People’s expectations.  What do I say to people?
  2. Band-Aid cures.  “Try this,” blah, blah, blah.
  3. Relocation.  I’ll just move away.
  4. Undeclared decrees.  This will just go away.
  5. You.  This is not the time to compare yourself with others.

Every crisis is a leadership opportunity, and this is your opportunity to lead yourself to resolution and acceptance, but you’re probably thinking, How do I do that? I’m a mess right now!

The answer is you do it one step at a time. In fact, when they look back on their experience, many people will say that it was a cycle of learning…a gradual return to what will be a “new normal.” This is why it can be seen as graduating from grief.

We don’t have to deny our loss in order to say goodbye. In fact, your very first step in the learning cycle is to embrace the truth. Staying in denial will only impede your progress. It will also compromise your integrity.

Be willing to share your truth with others. Sharing helps you heal. Keeping it inside will wear you out. By sharing your truth, you will learn that your experience is not unique; you are not alone.

Learn how to accept a support system and express your feelings. Thoughts determine feelings, and feelings determine actions. Stop any negative self-talk. You are moving forward.

When you are willing to express your personal feelings, admit your own limitations, and embrace a teachable spirit…you will experience vulnerability, which is the foundation of your new normal and your primary credential for graduation.

How will I know that I am progressing? Here are two keys that most people report:

  1. I have built a support system of committed people that I can rely on to lend a hand in practical ways. One person is not enough. When friends ask if I need help, I say YES! Your willingness to be vulnerable will break down the barriers of doing it all by yourself…and get You out of the way of YOU!
  2. I can report my feelings directly, without vague cover. For example, I’m able to admit, “I feel good.” “I feel lonely.” “I feel sad.” “I feel happy.” Truth prevails, confidently.


What will my new normal look like? Everyone is different, but most report:

  1. I can deal honestly with my loss. I walk in integrity and truth.
  2. I have learned to say goodbye to my loss.
  3. I have forgiven the Who, What, Where, and How of my loss.
  4. Anger and guilt no longer control me.
  5. I have HOPE and I look forward with pleasure, confidence, and expectation.
  6. I have learned how to heal and restore myself. 

Your New Normal

The recognition and acceptance at an emotional level that life has changed, and new opportunities are on the horizon.

The “Grief to Graduation” Learning Cycle

  1. Grief event occurs;
  2. I come to terms with its reality in my life;
  3. I learn to speak honestly and publicly about my feelings;
  4. I accept assistance when offered;
  5. I accept my vulnerability;
  6. I say goodbye to my loss;
  7. I say hello to my new normal;
  8. I say “Happy Graduation;”
  9. I embrace hope.

In conclusion, pain is inevitable. Misery is optional. 


Author’s Note: Portions of this article are attributable to my experiences teaching Grief Release classes with Joanne Petrie, Bereavement Chaplain at Bristol Hospice in Portland, Oregon.