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A Beginning Attempt to Measure the Pain of Grief

Using the Mcgill Pain Inventory

Bob Baugher, Ph.D.

Several years ago, researcher Dr. Ron Melzack developed a set of questions to measure physical pain. It consisted of three main dimensions: Sensory, Evaluative, and Affective each with its own distinct focus. The Sensory dimension taps into characteristics of pain such as spreading, burning, pulsating or crushing. Evaluative refers to the person’s actual experience of pain, such as unbearable, piercing, or excruciating. Affective reflects the emotional experience of pain such as bothersome, terrifying, or exhausting. Melzack also asked his participants about other aspects of their pain: (1) location of the pain in different parts of the body; (2) possible triggers for the pain; (3) whether the pain was constant or intermittent; and (4) what makes the pain better or worse.

As you can see, reporting one’s pain is more than just stating, “It hurts.” The death of your loved one has brought pain into your life—the pain of grief. In this article I want to use Melzack’s pain indicators as a vehicle to perhaps help you gain some insight into the pain of your grief. You can do this by answering a number of questions. Please beware that answering these questions can bring up reminders of the pain of grief you are experiencing. However, by analyzing your pain more deeply than you ever have, it may help you gain insight into your grief. With this in mind, take a moment to answer the following questions about the pain of your grief for two separate occasions:

a. During the first week after the death

b. The pain you are experiencing at this very moment:

1. Sensory dimension of pain: Circle the following words that apply:

spreading, burning, pulsating, crushing, devastating

2. Evaluative: Circle the following words that apply:

piercing, excruciating, overwhelming, intense, agonizing

3. Affective—Circle the following words that apply:

grueling, bothersome, terrifying, exhausting, killing

4. Where in your body is the pain located?_____________________________

5. What are triggers for your pain?___________________________________

6. Is the pain constant? Yes/No

7. If it is not constant, how often during an average 5–6-hour period does the pain


8. What makes the pain better?_____________________________________

9. What makes it worse?__________________________________________

By comparing the pain of our grief at two different time periods you can begin to determine if there has been progress in any particular areas. Please understand that I am not saying you will eventually reach a point in your life where your grief pain will have faded away. Based on my work with thousands of people in grief, I can say to you that someday your pain will not be as intense as it is at this moment. If you are early in your grief, hearing this may be hard to believe. If you are further along in your grief, you know that what I’m saying is true.

Pain is pain. As we’ve seen in this article, the pain of grief has a number of dimensions that affect our perception of it. The good news about pain is that it does change and can decrease. When you are in the middle of grief pain, you can absolutely believe that it will last at this level forever.

I have a response to this belief: It won’t.

Original Article:

Melzack R. (1975). The McGill Pain Questionnaire: Major properties and scoring methods. Pain, 1: 277-299.

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