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On Out Own Terms: Moyers on Dying
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1. What is grief?
Grief is a reaction to loss. While we often think of grief in terms of death, we can also grieve losses such as divorce. We may grieve the many losses we experience throughout an illness. We often think of grief in terms of feelings such as anger, guilt, sadness or loneliness. But grief affects us in other ways as well -- spiritually, behaviorally, physically, and cognitively.

2. What are the different stages of grief?
It is best not to think of grief as a series of stages. Rather, we might think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, times when we think we are doing better, and times that we think we are not doing so well.

3. How long does grief last?
Since grief is such an individual reaction, it is hard to give a timetable. For most people, the roller coaster is more intense for the first two years. After that, low periods tend to be less frequent and intense. But even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding or the birth of a child, we may still experience a sense of grief.

4. Are there different ways of grieving?
Each of us grieves in our own way, affected by such factors as our culture, gender, and relationship with the person who died, circumstances surrounding the loss, and the support available to us. Every loss has a unique meaning to us. Some may experience grief primarily as waves of feeling; others may manifest grief in the ways they think or physically feel.

5. How much grief is normal? How do I know if I need to see a grief therapist?
At any point, a grief therapist might help in sorting out reactions and ways that we are adapting to grief. In cases where expressions of grief are destructive to self or to others, or in situations where the grief is highly disabling (that is, we find it difficult to care for ourself, others or to function in roles such as our job), consultation with a therapist is critical. When we experience certain types of losses such as traumatic loss or the loss of a child, we would benefit from intervention.

6. What can I do myself to cope with my grief?
While every person will find their own sources of comfort, we may find some solace in support groups, activities such as journaling or other creative expressions, or within our own spirituality. Since grief is so stressful, it helps to take good care of ourselves. Eating and sleeping well, and getting adequate exercise are essential.

7. What is the importance of rituals such as funerals?
Rituals make mountains out of moments; that is, they allow us to mark significant events or give expression to an experience. Funeral rituals, for example, have significant roles such as bringing support together, marking a transition, allowing us to acknowledge the loss, explore feeling and memories, and hear ways that our own spirituality helps us cope with loss. We may wish to use other rituals, too, to mark our journey in grief. For example, an act as simple as lighting a candle or offering a toast to the deceased on a significant day can publicly acknowledge shared feelings and reactions.

8. How should I handle my grief at work?
It is best to communicate the loss with a supervisor and discuss any modifications in work schedules that might be necessary. Explore, too, resources such as employee assistance plans that can offer support.

For more resources on coping with the death of a loved one, visit

Kenneth J. Doka is a senior consultant for the Hospice Foundation of America and a professor of gerontology at The College of New Rochelle in New York. Professor Doka is the associate editor of Omega and the editor of "Children Mourning, Mourning Children" and "Living with Grief: Who We Are, How We Grieve."

Copyright 2000, Educational Broadcasting Corporation/Public Affairs Television, Inc.

On Our Own Terms - Moyers on DyingThirteen/WNET New YorkPBS Online