Integrated Grief: Transforming Loss into Meaning 

The death of a loved one is hard. There is no way around it—it’s just hard. When we experience loss, grief can take many forms, sometimes all at once. Navigating grief, or even just keeping your head above water, can feel scary and unmanageable. 

That intense and immediate emotional response that we experience following a significant loss is known as acute grief. It is the initial and often overwhelming reaction to the reality of the loss. This phase of grief is typically characterized by a range of intense emotions, including shock, disbelief, sadness, anger, guilt, and profound sorrow.

However, as time goes on, the intensity of acute grief will change—and how it changes depends on how we deal with it. Acute grief can turn into a prolonged battle, where we compartmentalize our suffering and separate it from the reality of our daily life, essentially closing off moments of mourning from what we have to do to get through the day. This prolonged emotional stasis is known "complicated grief," and it can keep you from moving forward with your life.

While this strategy can work in the short term, excessive avoidance of our grief can also lead to unresolved issues in the long term. The goal is not to bury our grief and shut it off from our lives. Rather, we want to process it fully, so we can transform its pain into lessons and a better understanding that we can take with us and use in our lives as we move forward. This concept is known as integrated grief.

What is Integrated Grief? 

Integrated grief is the process of fully acknowledging the experience of loss and incorporating it into our lives. To do this, we must take an active role in working through the complex emotions and changes that come from loss, ultimately transforming our experiences into something useful without suppressing or denying the significance of the loss. 

Integrating your grief into your life allows you to maintain the powerful connection you have with your loved one while also adapting and adjusting to their absence. Grief doesn’t necessarily go away, but it doesn’t need to be a heavy burden we drag around with us. Instead, we want to take that weight and find meaning in it, striking a balance between honoring the memory of your loved one and embracing your own present and future.

How Do You Work Towards Integrated Grief?

Integrating grief is not easy—it takes work. It’s important to recognize that the grief journey is different for everyone, and you shouldn’t feel as if you need to tackle everything all at once. In fact, you should allow yourself to work through your feelings at your own pace, practicing self-care and forgiveness along the way. 

Integrated grief is a proactive and intentional process. When you are ready, there are a few steps you can take to begin to transform your bereavement into something positive and beneficial to your own growth and development.

Acknowledge and Accept Emotions

Recognizing and accepting the full range of emotions associated with grief, including sadness, anger, guilt and self blame, even moments of joy or relief, can be the first step toward healing. It's essential to allow oneself to feel without judgment, even the complex emotions that make us feel ashamed or embarrassed. You are not alone. 

Grief and emotional pain are complicated, and there is no one right way to “feel” when you experience a devastating loss. Instead of suppressing your feelings, allow them to wash over you. Their texture and complexity will give you the tools to better understand yourself and what you are going through.  

Express Your Emotions

Once you allow yourself to feel, don’t keep it bottled up. Find healthy outlets and seek emotional support. This could mean talking to friends or family, keeping a journal, participating in support groups, seeing a therapist, or engaging in activities that provide a means of emotional expression.

The grief journey can feel lonely and isolated. Sharing our emotional pain with those close to us can be therapeutic and provides the opportunity to receive comfort, understanding, and perspective when we need it most.

Create Rituals and Memorials

Establishing rituals or creating memorials that honor the memory of the deceased can help provide a physical representation of your loved one’s legacy and a place or context for you to remember and reflect on the significant events of their remarkable lives. This could mean celebrating their life on special occasions, creating a memorial space or tribute, or participating in activities that were meaningful to your loved one.

Incorporating the memory of your loved one into places you go and things you do can help integrate the grief into your life in a natural way. By allowing time for reflection and remembrance, you are keeping them with you, not as a heavy weight on your shoulders, but as someone whose memory has the power to lift your spirits and teach you lessons about what’s happening in your life today.

Practice Self Care 

When we are dealing with grief, it’s easy to lose sight of ourselves and get wrapped up in our thoughts and painful emotions. Prioritizing self-care, including proper nutrition, exercise, and sufficient rest, is crucial to finding balance as we move forward. Grief can take a toll on both physical and mental health, and maintaining overall health supports the resilience needed for the grieving process.

Set Realistic Expectations

Grief is a process with its own timeline. Avoid placing unrealistic expectations on yourself or others. The natural healing process takes time, and it's important to be patient and compassionate with oneself. If you feel overwhelmed, you can try setting goals for yourself. It might mean just getting out of bed, running errands, or taking a walk and getting some sun. Start small, and work up to the big stuff at your own pace.

Create Meaning and Purpose

It’s important to explore ways to find purpose in life after loss. This could include seeking out and discovering new interests, setting personal goals, or engaging in activities that contribute to a sense of fulfillment. I can also involve making meaning from the loss itself. Grief expert David Kessler calls “meaning making” the sixth stage of grief, and in many ways, it is the most lasting. The first five (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) are all about handling the experience of loss. Meaning making is about how you carry on after it.

Meaning making can take many forms. It could mean experiencing gratitude for the time you spent with your loved one, how having known them has created positive change in your own life, feeling changed by their death, or even creating something of meaning for others. The purpose of meaning making is to embrace the changes in your identity identity, the changes in your relationships with others, and the changes to your outlook on life as a result of your experience. 

Be Open to Professional Help

Sometimes it helps to have a professional to answer questions and guide you through your grief journey. If needed, consider seeking the support of a grief counselor or therapist who specializes in bereavement. Professional guidance can offer valuable tools and insights for navigating the complexities of grief and can offer reassurances about how you feel and what you’re going through.

Integrated Grief is Grief With Purpose

Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to grief, and individuals may find different strategies helpful at different times. The goal is to actively engage with the grieving process, allowing for integration and adaptation over time.

We often have the tendency to wonder, "When will this pain ease? When will it be over?" after a loss. We just want to go back to “normal,” to the way things were before. While the desire to be "done grieving" and magically revert to your former self is natural, the truth is, life doesn't work that way. 

When we lose a significant person in our lives, it is impossible to simply return to normal. Our lives have changed, we’ve changed, and there’s no going back. Instead, we must come to terms with the impact of the loss and find meaning within it so we can begin to heal. 

Carrying Your Loved One With You

At Eterneva, we know that grief never fully goes away. And that’s okay. The key to moving forward in a healthy way is finding meaning in the loss that can help you be a better and more complete person. That’s why we specialize in creating something that you can carry with you in life, a constant reminder of the bond you shared with your loved one and the lessons you learned from them. Creating a memorial diamond from their ashes provides the opportunity to truly integrate their memory into your life, transforming the pain of loss into the joy of remembrance. With a memorial diamond from Eterneva, you don’t have to leave your loved one behind in order to move forward.