Theory of Dr. Roberta Temes


Grief as a Normal Life Crisis

Grief Work  

Three(3) Stages of Grief

            Cautions concerning any “stage” theory 

Effects of Unresolved Grief

Goals of Mourning

            1. Complete the relation

            2. Redirect life’s energy toward the future-  RECATHEXIS 

I.  Numbness

·       Duration

·       Symptoms

II.  Depression

·       Duration

·       Symptoms

III. Accommodation

·       Duration

·       Symptoms 

Children and Grief

            Duration of Grief

            Intensity of Grief

Need for:

1.     Truth

2.     Permission

3.     Security

4.     Example


Death is a normal life crisis without any formalized manner for dealing with it.  Each person’s experience is unique to them.  There is no one single best way to work through it.  Grief practices as part of ritualized behaviors.  Death is one of the rites of passages:

            Birth                9 months

            Initiation        9-13 years notice and preparation

            Marriage          1-2 years of preparation time to prepare for the new role

            (Divorce)       trial separation

            Death               often no preparation

Grief Work

            The relationship with the dead person must be brought to an end

            Bereaved need reassurances that they are not abnormal, that the pain will come to an end.

The physical relationship is ended but the emotional relationship must be completed.  It may take a while.  The relationship is the result of an investment of a lifetime.  The griever must come to feel as if the dead person is no longer alive and physically available to them in this world. 

There are:


GOAL of  GRIEF WORK:  RECATHEXIS   (Freudian Term as a Heuristic device)

                        Concerning emotional energy, sublimation/repression etc…


PART I: Complete the relationship with the deceased person

     Grief work on the emotional aspect in order to restore a normal life

     Grief is Necessary!!

     Everyone must experience grief for a return to a healthy life!!

     Grief is psychologically healthy and needed – it liberates from the agony of loss.

     Bereavement is not a mental illness, although some behavior is similar.


GOAL:  to no longer FEEL as if the dead person is still alive in the world and available to you.


PART II: Redirect life’s energy toward the future

            Reinvest in human relationships

            Future focus on your life in a world without the dead person in it any longer


I.             Numbness

Psychic Numbing-Psychic Closing Off- Dr. Robert J. Lifton  

The mourner is unable to deal with the full meaning of the death

Unconscious defense mechanisms take over- for SELF PROTECTION

Defenses are a mechanical operation, which begins at the moment of learning of the death.

It lasts one to three weeks (average) but can go on for months

The mourner maintains an emotional resistance to the event- no gut reactions-suppression of emotions 

Mechanical Operations take over one’s life.  The mourner spends a great deal of time in discharging basic and simple responsibilities.  People report feeling: numb; robot-like; suspended animation; like a bad dream; like in a movie; unreal; “just buggin”  

This numbness protects a person from the overflow of emotions that would disrupt a normal life:

Anger, guilt, loneliness, helplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, fear,  depression------All are REPRESSED

  II.         Disorganization


The insulation wears off and all the repressed feelings come through and often overwhelm the grieved.

It is ironic that when the need for the comfort from the family is the greatest, they are not there, thinking that all is in order and that the grieved has returned to some semblance of normalcy. Anger, guilt, loneliness, helplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, fear, depression all surface.

SELF-PITY also arises: the feeling that the family just doesn’t understand, can’t possibly understand, no one can understand what the mourner is experiencing.

Grievers break down and cry and become emotionally overwrought, distraught  

There should be more concern for those that show no emotion and display no symptoms than for those that do show signs.

GRIEVING IS HEALTHY.  Those who show their emotions complete their grief work sooner.  Don’t repress or stifle the emotions including anger.  The effects of unresolved grief, especially guilt, can be quite disruptive.  

HALLUCINATIONS- habits, wishing the dead was still there are all common symptoms


PSYCHIC SLAPPING- It is the compulsive need to talk about the circumstances of the death and the dead and one’s relationship to the dead person.  It is the attempt to incorporate the death into your life as a reality.  


This stage is similar to a suspension into an unreal world.  Daily tasks become overwhelming. It lasts 12-24 months.  Then a person gradually comes out of it.  They cry less and think less about the death.  They sleep and eat as they did before the death.  They talk less indiscriminately about the death.  

The person no longer feels that the dead loved one is still in the world.  The grieved knows that the loved one will never be forgotten but that life continues on.  

III.     Accommodation  

Grievers make commitments to the future.  They begin to complete the mourning process.  Changes in life have been made to deal with the death.  Sometimes grievers need help (support) from others.  

The mourners must expand their social network.  They need to rejoin life’s activities.  They must take the risk; the risk of living again fully.  Mourners now join in activities.  Widows may need encouragement to do so.  The relationship with the dead loved one is now taking on its proper form and the mourner is adapting to a proper perspective of the relationship.

Grievers could use ROLE MODELS, people in similar circumstances and situations, as assistants in their grief work.  


Bereaved is extremely susceptible to illnesses.

            Real illness- somatizing-psychosomatic process

            Imagined Illness- hypochondria  

There is a Need for those who would offer assistance to recognize the stages of grief.   

This is easier for those who have been through the process of grief.  There is a need for bereavement services or supportive acts by members of a family (large families often have a support network).  

Community groups exist that offer supportive services.  Religious organizations and health institutions often offer bereavement counseling services.  

There are SELF HELP groups as well.  All are offering both practical and psychological advice and support.  


Stages of Cognitive Development Related to Understanding Death

I.   0-5 years of age: DENIAL


II.   5-9 years of age: DEATH PERSONIFIED

DEATH is seen as an agent or force-Distant from Self

III.  over 9 years of age: MATURE


      Cessation of all Bodily Activities  

Children grieve differently.  They grieve more deeply.  They start later and often take longer than adults to complete the grief process.

Children NEED:

1.     the TRUTH

2.     PERMISSION to Grieve

3.     EXAMPLES of how to Grieve

4. SUPPORT in order to grieve- provide for their security  

Best to discuss the death with children as accurately and as truthfully as possible.  Children believe what adults tell them and they attempt to understand it given their own experiences.  They will often return to the adult and ask questions concerning what they don’t understand or concerning what they have heard that conflicts with whatever else they have understood.  They may not ask questions directly after hearing the explanations.  They may wait quite a while until some other occasion prompts the questioning.  Adults should be prepared for this.  

Children should not be told lies or be given euphemisms.  They tend to take them to be literally true and this may lead to other problems.  

Don’t tell children;

          Grandma is just sleeping-in a big sleep

          Daddy is on a trip- a long trip

          Grandpa is up in heaven with God-in the clouds

          Grandma is with God now because God takes the “Good”  

          Now you are the “man” of the house and you must help your mother

Now you are the “woman” of the house and you must help your father with the children  

Children could benefit from concrete reminders of their loved one.

Children could use role models, discussions with others in similar circumstances who have survived it.

Children should be encouraged to grieve, to cry and show their emotions.  Adults should do the same in a manner that children can witness and learn from those adults how to release their own emotions.  

There are organizations and programs to assist people with the grief process.  Those who are experiencing difficulties with their grief work should be encouraged to make contact with such groups and programs.  

Grieving Web Sites

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