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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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Is It Ever Too Soon To Recover?

Conflicting opinions from a wide variety of sources confuse the question of when to begin a process of completing what was left emotionally incomplete when someone important to you dies. Medical, psychological, societal and family experts all approach the issue from different perspectives.

It is not uncommon for us to hear of people being told by a mental health professional, "It's too soon to begin your grief work, you're not ready yet." We grit our teeth every time we hear that comment. Imagine that you have fallen down and gashed your leg and that blood is gushing from the wound. Then imagine someone walking by and saying: "It's too soon, you’re not ready for medical attention yet."

What if circumstances and events have broken your heart? Imagine that you are experiencing the massive and conflicting emotions caused by the death of someone important to you. Then imagine a friend, or worse, a professional, saying to you: "It's too soon, you’re not ready for emotional attention yet."

You Can Begin Recovery Actions Immediately

Most grieving people need and want to talk about "what happened" and about their relationship with the person who died. The time they most need and want to talk about it is in the days and weeks immediately following the death. It preoccupies them, just as the person with the gashed leg is preoccupied with their accident, the pain, and the need for medical help. Those who do not want to talk about it will let you know.

When a person learns of the death of someone important to them, an almost automatic review process begins. In reviewing the relationship, the grieving person remembers many events that occurred over the length of the relationship. Some of the events are happy and produce fond memories, some are unhappy and produce sad memories.

During this automatic review, grievers usually discover some things they wish they'd had an opportunity to say or do, things they wish had ended "differently, better, or more." It is those unsaid and undone things which need to be completed, even though that cannot be done directly with the person who died. The review is most intense and most accurate in the time immediately following the death. It is the time when we are most focused on the person who died and our relationship with them. We will rarely have another opportunity to remember the relationship with such detail, clarity and emotional intensity. As soon as you become aware of the review process going on inside your head and your heart, it is time to begin the actions of Grief Recovery.

Even if your loss occurred many years ago, do not despair, those actions can help you recapture the review that took place and may have been repeating itself over and over. You will be able to complete what the death left emotionally unfinished for you.


You may have noticed that we repeatedly say “death of someone important to you,” rather than the more common phrase “death of a loved one.” In fact we’ve said it three times in this article. Without diminishing any reader’s relationship with someone who has died, we know that an awful lot of people are affected by the death of someone who might better be called a “less than loved one.”

We know that many people are trapped by the phrase “loved one” when it doesn’t fit the relationship they had with the person who died. This is especially true when the person who died was a family member or other who “should” have been a loved one. The fact that a relationship was not warm and fuzzy does not mean that the surviving person is not a griever. Amongst other things, they mourn the fact that what should have been a positive relationship, wasn’t. They mourn the fact that the death robs them of the opportunity to resolve the differences they had with the person who died.

The review that follows the death of a "less than loved one" is the same process and requires the same actions you would take when a loved one dies, with the obvious difference that there may be many more negative aspects to the relationship than positive ones. The actions of Grief Recovery are spelled out in detail in The Grief Recovery Handbook, which is available at most libraries and book stores.

© 2022 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 info@griefrecoverymethod.com or by phone, 800-334-7606.

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Workshops & Training Schedule

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

    April 2017
    Indianapolis, IN - April 7-10, 2017
    Princeton, NJ - April 7-10, 2017
    Reading, Berkshire, England - April 21-24, '17
    Denver, CO - April 21-24, 2017
    Vancouver, BC, Canada - Apr 28-May 1,'17
    San Francisco, CA - Apr 28-May 1,'17
    May 2017
    Seattle, WA - May 5-8, 2017
    Dallas, TX - May 5-8, 2017
    Milwaukee, WI - May 19-22, 2017
    Torquay, Devon, England - May 19-22, '17
    Regina, SK, Canada - May 19-22,'17
    Los Angeles, CA - May 19-22, 2017

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