Thought of the Day: Part 3 Grief Hierarchy- Reducing Grief

Stan Goldberg, PhD

In Part 1 of Grief Hierarchy, I presented the idea grief shouldn’t be evaluated in terms of whose is greater. In Part 2, I introduced the notion (controversial based on the feedback I received) we don’t grieve the loss of the person or ability, but rather the emotions they generated. In this final installment, I’ll offer suggestions for how to regain joy in one’s life, and if that’s not possible, to at least reduce grief. 

Finding Your Joy

After a less than successful hip replacement I realized I couldn’t do an activity I loved for the past thirty years: four-wall handball. I never was a great handball player, A low “B” player at the most. My partners would say a “C at best.”  

Regardless how I played, for two hours I experienced a sense of well-being unachievable through any other activity, other than fly fishing. I stopped playing when my deteriorating hip made it impossible to turn. I followed the physical therapist’s recommendations for six months following surgery hoping I could again play handball. I would have accepted even being a “D” player, but two years after surgery I wasn’t able to complete a single game without intense pain. 

The Search and Reducing Grief

 I had a choice: persist in playing handball believing in the future I would experience my past joy, or look to recreate the emotion in another way. Despite the orthopedic surgeon’s warning not to run again, I did and found the same emotions by running one mile at a slow speed as I did playing handball during my best days. 

A similar process, choosing what to do after a significant loss, faces people following the death of a loved one or rejection by a partner or friend. They can choose to dwell on what was lost (a partner, friend, etc.), or identify what was endearing. If they choose the latter, the search can begin for something to recreate it.

Choices For Those Grieving a Loss

As a hospice volunteer for eight years and now as a caregiver counselor, I found two choices those who are grieving face that often determines if grief becomes a life-long acquaintance. The first is a willingness to identifying the lost emotion(s). The second is not to restrict the search for a replica of what generated the emotion.

Choosing Wisely

One of the most loving relationships I witnessed was between a couple in hospice. They were married for more than fifty years, inseparable, and shared everything. One would start a sentence and the other would complete it. She had only a few weeks to live and her husband would sleep on a blanket on the floor next to her rather than in a comfortable cot across the room. When asked why he didn’t use the cot, he responded, “That’s too far away from her.”

We expected when she died his grief would be inconsolable. And for awhile it was. Months later I heard he became a volunteer at a service organization for people with Alzheimer’s and once again viewed life with joy. It was fruitless searching for a woman with his wife’s attributes and a lifetime of shared experiences. But it was possible to find an activity to regenerate the emotions that created their bond.

Yes, mourn your loss, whether it’s a relationship or ability. And when you’re ready to rejoin the world, don’t confine your search to exactly what was lost. Look to rekindle the emotions that drew you to the person or made the activity so important in your life.

Preventing Senior Moments, by Stan Goldberg

Offers practical and achievable prevention strategies for senior moments.


  1. Ken

    You’ve given me ‘food for thought’, Stan. In terms of addictions, for example. I’m a recovering alcoholic. Used booze to numb what felt like a very miserable life. I had to grief the loss of the booze, but focused instead on feeling my feelings and learning to live in my body with any feelings/emotions I may have, own them, express them most appropriately, and move on…oh, an breathe into them (something I was not familiar with). Put all that creativity I used to get and consume liquor, into wholesome activities and learning to be more genuine, true to my values and beliefs. The same does apply, as you state, to loss of relationships, loss of various aspects of health. Channeling the energy in constructive ways, even if it is simply speaking my truth. Thanks for your thought today, Stan.

    • Stan Goldberg

      Glad to have helped. Good luck on your journey.


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