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John James, founder of The Grief Recovery Institute

John W. James

Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute®
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve

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Russell Friedman, Executive Director of The Grief Recovery Institute

Russell Friedman

Executive Director
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve

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When Your Heart Is Broken, Your Head Doesn’t Work Right And Your Spirit May Not Soar

For most people, the immediate response to the death of someone important to them is a sense of numbness. After that initial numbness wears off, the most common physiological reaction is a reduced ability to concentrate. The rest of the world goes out of focus. Nothing else is important. It is normal and natural that your entire being is centered on what happened and your relationship with the person who died. The length of time that the reduced ability to concentrate lasts is individual and can vary from a few days to several months, and even longer. It is not a sign that there’s something wrong with you.

The fact that the emotional impact of the death of that person has altered your day-to-day routines is very healthy. It would make no sense for you to not be affected by the death. It is normal to drift out of focus in response to conscious or unconscious memories of the person who died.

Please be gentle with yourself in allowing that your focus is not on the actions of life, but on your reactions to a death. If you’re at work, you can take little “grief breaks” as needed. It’s a good idea to establish a safe person at work who you can talk to when and if you get overwhelmed.

It’s also smart to have a phone pal you can call when the emotions keep you from concentrating. The breaks and chats will make you better able to do the work you need to do. Please keep in mind that it’s important to focus while driving a car. It’s not safe to drive with tears in your eyes. If need be, pull over. Allow yourself to have whatever emotions come up, and maybe call someone and talk for a while before you get back on the road.

When Your Heart Is Broken, Your Head Doesn’t Work Right Along with not being able to concentrate, your thinking ability and judgment may be limited. That’s why grieving people are advised to be careful about making major life decisions in the aftermath of the death of someone important to them. To put it in simple terms, when your heart is broken, your head doesn’t work right. You must take care either not to make big decisions until you regain your ability to focus, and you must make sure you have people you trust to help you understand your choices and the consequences of what you decide.

When Your Heart Is Broken, Your Spirit May Not Soar Many people with strong religious and spiritual principles may find their faith at a crossroads in reaction to the death of someone important to them. This is most common when the death has been one of those inexplicable tragedies, for which there is no apparent rhyme or reason. Grief, in reaction to the death of someone meaningful in your life, is a major emotional experience. Although we never compare feelings, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the death of someone special to you may be the most emotional experience you ever have. Even the most devout people report breeches or lapses in faith, as their religious and spiritual beliefs and philosophies go out of focus in the face of the emotional avalanche that confronts them.

We Help With the Heart First—Intellect and Spirit After We’ve helped thousands of people recapture their intellectual abilities and reclaim their faith after losses. First we help them deal with their emotions about the death of the person, after which the function of their intellect and their faith usually return naturally. In the latter situation, if faith doesn’t return, we help them grieve and complete their relationship to God or the other faith elements that may have been affected. The latter issue regarding faith is so import that we devoted a substantial new section to it in the 20th Anniversary Edition of The Grief Recovery Handbook.

© 2015 Russell P. Friedman, John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute®. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at or by phone, 800-334-7606.

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If you or someone important to you wants help with grief: Look for a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist℠ in your community. The Grief Recovery Institute ® trains and mentors Certified Grief Recovery Specialists℠ throughout the United States & Canada.

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Workshops & Training Schedule

The Grief Recovery Institute ® offers Certification Training programs for those who wish to help grievers.

    March 2015
    Richmond, VA - March 13-16, 2015
    Perth, Australia - March 19-22, 2015
    Calgary, AB, Canada - March 20-23, 2015
    Los Angeles, CA -March 20-23, 2015
    Saltillo, Coah, Mexico - March 27-30, 2015
  • April 2015
    Melbourne, Australia - April 9-12, 2015
    San Francisco, CA - April 10-13, 2015
    Memphis, TN - April 17-20, 2015
    Denver, CO - April 17-20, 2015
    Omaha, NE - April 24-27, 2015
    Winnipeg, MB, Canada - April 24-27, 2015
    Monterrey, NL, Mexico - April 24-27, 2015

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