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Resiliency for Victims' Families

Rising from the Ashes of Grief

by Al Siebert, PhD, Director, The Resiliency Center

Adapted from The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back From Setbacks by Al Siebert, Ph.D. (Berrett-Koehler Publishers)

Families having to survive, rebuild, and continue on after the agonizing loss of a loved one is woven into the history of the human race. The impact and chaos of a traumatic loss can be devastating. We humans, however, have the resiliency to survive agonizing grief, heal, and even be transformed by the experience.

Grief counselors have assisted thousands of people through the grief process. The heroic journey to rebuild a shattered life now divided into "before" and "after" usually includes these five stages:

  • Impact: shock, denial, anxiety, fear, panic...
  • Chaos: confusion, disbelief, actions out of control, irrational thoughts and feelings, feeling despair, feeling helpless, desperate searching, lose track of time, obsessive focus on the loved one and their possessions, difficulty sleeping and eating, agony from imagining, physical symptoms, shattered beliefs...
  • Adapting: bringing order back into daily life while you continue to grieve, taking care of basic needs-personal grooming, shopping, cooking, cleaning, paying bills,-learning to live without the loved one, accept help, focus on helping children cope, connect with other grieving families for mutual support, take control of grieving so that grief does not control you, slowly accept the new reality...
  • Equilibrium: attain stability and routines-re-establish a life that works well for you, enjoy pleasant activities with family members and good times with friends, do productive work, choose a positive new direction in life while honoring the past. Learn how to handle people who ask questions about what you've been through...
  • Transformation: rethink your purpose in life and the basis for your identity. Look for meaning in tragic, senseless loss. Allow yourself to have both painful and positive feelings about your loss and become able to choose which feelings you focus on. Allow yourself to discover that your struggle has led you to develop a stronger, better version of yourself than you expected could exist. Learn how to talk with others about your heroic healing journey without exposing them to your pain. Become supportive of others trying to deal with their loss....


The Phoenix Phenomenon: Rising from the Ashes of Grief, by Joanne Jozefowski, R.N., Ph.D. (Second edition, with the new chapter on "Surviving Traumatic Grief" written for 9/11 survivors.) Aronson Publishing House, 2001.

The Survivor Personality: Why Some People Are Stronger, Smarter, and More Skillful at Handling Life's Difficulties...and How You Can Be, Too, by Al Siebert, Ph.D. Perigee/Berkley Books, 1996.

Al Siebert has studied mental health for over thirty years. He is the Director of The Resiliency Center and author of The Resiliency Advantage and The Survivor Personality.

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