Grief is a Problem

by Dr. Bill Webster

In a moment of therapeutic inspiration, the counselor set half a glass of water in front of her support group. She expected the usual “half-full, half-empty” responses, by which she would identify the optimists and the pessimists.

But one participant surprised her. Dan picked up the glass, drank the water, and told everyone he was a “problem solver”. Some might call him something else; but I like his attitude. It’s called “thinking outside the box”. 

I suggest there is a growing need for such thinking in the area of grief.

Let me begin on a personal note.

Last month was a difficult one for my family. Three years ago, we were by the bedside of my son Steve, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury, and who 20 days later would pass away … as his dad, his wife and his daughter wept. 

Three years later, I am still not “over it”, and unapologetically so. Those who have lost a child, or indeed any significant relationship, will not be surprised by that statement. I will never understand the “Why”, or “accept” that he is gone. Nothing is going to “fix” this. My son has died, and that is devastating.

However, that does not mean that my life is over. Certainly life is different … I will miss Steve every single day of the rest of my life. But I am getting on with what I yet want to accomplish, and making the most of what I still have. 

In other words, I am not going to be defined by this loss. I am defined by who I am, what I have accomplished, and by the life I have lived, which has included being a Dad to Steve, and many other investments as a son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, grief counselor, and other roles I have assumed in my life. 

Because I am not defined by this one albeit tragic event in my life, that means I can take courage that it will not destroy me, even though it will remain as one of the saddest experiences of my entire life.

I was touched by a recent picture of Queen Elizabeth, who, just a month or so after the death of her husband Prince Philip, was seen laughing and jovial at Royal Ascot and the Windsor Horse show. The headline read: “Living Her Best Life.”  In fact, it has been reported that Prince Philip himself encouraged her to go on with her life, unlike Queen Victoria, whose lifetime of mourning for Prince Albert is well documented.




With grief, “thinking outside the box” involves more than just focusing on the SYMPTOMS of grief and anguish. It involves understanding the SIGNIFICANCE of what has happened. 

For every bereaved person, we must recognize that our world is different now, and is never going back to the way it was … which is always the most difficult and frustrating part of such situations. 

We can’t change what has happened. All anyone can do is decide what we are going to do about the situation and how we are going to REACT to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

My point here is to suggest that we are not defined by what happens to us, personally, nationally or in our world, no matter how horrendous. But this must be more than a “learning moment.”  It is a time for action, a time for each one of us to say, “We can’t change what has happened; all we can do is decide what we are going to do about what has happened.”  So, we should learn from Dan and become “problem solvers”.

Personally and nationally, we all have a past. We have all made choices and acted in ways that were not the best. None of us is completely innocent. We all have a history.

But balance thes sad reality of whatever loss or tragedy has affected your life with what is good in yourself. 

And then, as Prince Philip would say, “Live your best life.”