Grieving & Mourning II: Working through Pain

In a previous blog post (Grieving & Mourning I: Accepting Loss), I discussed the first of four “tasks” that occur as part of the grieving process:

  1. accept the reality of the loss,
  2. work through the pain of grief,
  3. adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing, and
  4. emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life.

In this blog post, I discuss the second task.

The bereaved must find ways to work through the pain of grief. Avoiding it only delays and extends the grief. Grief literature talks about the need for the bereaved to express the full range of their feelings; repressing feelings may well result in other problems, including mental or physical illness. As ethnomusicologists well know, Anglo-Americans enjoy and often prefer expressing emotions through poetry and song, especially if they were composed by someone else. For example, there are innumerable greetings cards printed with emotionally-intense poetry, but I think most people would feel uncomfortable writing such words themselves. It’s OK for someone else to say it on their behalf, but not for they themselves to say or write it. It would seem that the same principle is operating in the case of disaster songs, which tell the disaster story and elicit emotional responses in socially acceptable ways. One of the few psychotherapists to write about the use of music in the context of disasters – in this case, about 9/11 – Alexander Stein explains it as follows:

Music can function as a surrogate or auxiliary cry or wail, an externalization of an intolerably overwhelming, incomprehensible, or crushing internal state. It can give voice to feelings otherwise inexpressible, to the vast zone of overwhelming affect for which spoken and written language may be inadequate, in essence speaking for the self obliterated or muted by despair, or symbolizing experiences and affects otherwise too intense or overwhelming to express directly. (Stein 2004: 808)


Work Cited

Stein, Alexander. 2004. Music, Mourning, and Consolation. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 52 (3):783-811.

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