In Search of Healthy Grieving

I wanted to experience “healthy grieving.” These words often appear in grief articles and books. Did healthy grieving mean sobbing like crazy, being confused, or having grief brain? None of those sounded healthy to me. I went in search of healthy grieving.

As I walked forward on the healing path, I understood the meaning of these words. Healthy grieving required thinking of my deceased loved ones differently and finding new places for them in my life. Some grief experts said I had to develop a new relationship with the deceased.

This idea puzzled me. I thought my loved ones needed to be alive to have a relationship with them. Not true. Developing a new relationship included breaking through emotional barriers until I reached the truth.

Multiple Losses Required Extra Time to Grieve

Four losses in 2007 were too much to handle. Coming to terms with grief took longer for me because I could only think about one person at a time. I thought about the nature of each relationship: my relationship with my father, mother, brother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, daughter, son-in-law, and John.

For the most part, these relationships were good. My mother-in-law, for example, wrote me a note about how much she appreciated my sense of humor. Thinking about relationships was time-consuming, exhausting, and revealing. I couldn’t move forward on the healing path until I had done this thinking.

According to grief expert Therese A. Rando, I had to recall the ups and downs of each relationship, the positives and negatives, the crises and joys, and how these relationships changed through the years. Doing this would allow me to have a new relationship with my departed loved ones.

Continued Bond with the Deceased

As I thought about each relationship, images from the past came to mind. My father was the air-raid warden for our block during World War II. In my mind, I saw him walking up and down the street, checking to make sure the houses were dark. I remembered how serious he was about his job.

I saw my mother baking sponge cakes—her specialty. She was such a superb baker that friends asked her to bake cakes for them. They delivered the ingredients and Mom baked the cakes. Our small kitchen became a cake factory.

I saw my brother’s collection of sailing books lined up on a shelf. He read them all. My brother always looked for a sailing book wherever we went, and he had amassed an extensive collection. The book about tying sailing knots was one of his favorites.

I saw my mother-in-law setting the table for a formal dinner. She was a Victorian grandmother and proud of it. Her table settings, which included a “silence cloth” beneath the tablecloth, were worthy of royalty. I wished I could set a table as well.

Actively Remembering Loved Ones

I saw my father-in-law flying a small plane. He did this for a few years. “Now I know what keeps a plane in the air,” he said with a chuckle. “Money.” For Dad, that was a joke and wasn’t a joke. He quit flying.

I saw Helen sitting at the sewing machine and make a skirt in an hour without reading the instructions. We were astonished. To this day, I can’t believe my daughter did this.

I saw my former son-in-law holding his babies. He was proud of them and had a T-shirt that said, “Father of Twins.” He was proud to be their dad.

I saw John in his Air Force uniform and colonel’s hat. The hat had silver lightning bolts on it, and the jacket was adorned with rows of service ribbons. John represented the Air Force well. These were happy memories, to be sure.

Recalling Life Stories

Remembering my loved ones made me think of stories about them. One story was about my mother taking driving lessons. Since Mom didn’t drive, she had to wait until my father could drive her places or, if it wasn’t too far, walk to her destination. This became so tiresome, my mother decided to take driving lessons. The first lessons went well, and Mom was pleased with herself until the day she hit the porch with our car.

My brother had a wicked sense of humor. He heard the thump, opened the front door, and shouted, “Did you knock?” Mom didn’t find his comment humorous. In fact, she was so ashamed she gave up on driving lessons. After my father died and Mom moved to Florida, a cousin gave her driving lessons. She passed the test and became a licensed driver, which was a highlight of her life.

I chuckled when I remembered Mom hitting the porch, and then I became teary-eyed. Tears connected me to the past and were signs of love. Someone cared about me, and I cared about them. My tears didn’t last long, yet they were a relief—proof that life was moving forward. I felt better. I was making progress in my search for healthy grieving.

Excerpted from Winning: A Story of Grief and Renewal: Hodgson MA, Harriet: 9781608082919: Books.

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Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 43 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 42 books, including 10 grief resources. She is Assistant Editor of the Open to Hope website, a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Alliance of Independent Authors, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. She is well acquainted with grief. In 2007 four family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling) and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and healing. She has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at The Compassionate Friends national conference, Bereaved Parents of the USA national conference, and Zoom grief conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy grandmother, great grandmother, author, and speaker please visit

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