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________What is Grief?_________

I recently lost my Dad. In my grief, I am forced to pull out some well-honed tools so I can move through this emotional pain. And I was witness to and surprised by the variety of ways family members responded to his death. I thought I'd share some of my beliefs about grief.

 Loss and grief have profound effects on our mental health and while INEVITABLE in all our lives, the expression of each remains a taboo to so many of us.

Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. The death of a loved one is often the cause of our most intense type of grief—but any loss can cause grief, including but not limited to and in no particular order:

  • Divorce, separation, break-ups
  • Death of a beloved pet
  • A miscarriage
  • Serious illness
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Physical Trauma, Serious Accidents
  • Leaving or selling the family home
  • High School and College graduation
  • Loss of job, financial instability
  • Retirement

Grieving is a highly individual experience. And in my opinion, is an experience we in the western hemisphere neglect to make a natural event in the cycle of life. It's perhaps why I see in my practice and in life, so much fear and pain attached to it. Ultimately, how you grieve depends upon many factors, including what you are taught, your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss.

Myths and Facts About Grief

MYTH: Avoid/ignore thoughts and feelings about the loss so it will stop bothering you sooner.
Fact: When not expressed, painful feelings are bottled up. When we let our painful feelings out, there's a beginning, middle, and an END to them.

MYTH: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.
Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings helps you AND shows others' that it's OK to grieve.

MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.
Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. And sadness isn't the only emotion that loss brings about. Those who don’t cry may feel their own pain just as deeply as others and may simply have other ways of showing it. 

MYTH: Grief should last about a year.
Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. The grieving process always takes time and can differ from person to person. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried – and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years.   

Source: Center for Grief and Healing

Are there stages of grief?
  In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” Kübler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns. In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages of grief: “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

The five stages of grief:
  • Denial: “This can’t be happening.”
  • Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
  • Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____. ”
  • Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
  • Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”

If you are experiencing any of these emotions following a loss, it may help to know that your reaction is natural and that you’ll heal in time.  And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably won’t experience them in a neat, sequential order, so don’t worry about what you “should” be feeling or which stage you’re supposed to be in.
Just remember that almost anything that you experience in the early stages of grief is normal – including feeling like you’re going crazy, feeling like you’re in a bad dream, or questioning your religious beliefs. 

While loss affects people in different ways, many experience the following symptoms when they’re grieving.

  • Shock and disbelief– Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss really happened, or even deny the truth. If someone you love has died, you may keep expecting him or her to show up, even though you know he or she is gone.

  • Sadness– Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness. You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.

  • Guilt– You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn’t say or do. You may also feel guilty about certain feelings (e.g. feeling relieved when the person died after a long, difficult illness). After a death, you may even feel guilty for not doing something to prevent the death, even if there was nothing more you could have done.

  • Anger – Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you may feel angry and resentful. If you lost a loved one, you may be angry with yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.

  • Fear– A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.

  • Physical symptoms – We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems, including fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.*

Losing someone or something you love or care deeply about is very painful. You may experience all kinds of difficult emotions and it may feel like the pain and sadness you're experiencing will never let up.

These are normal reactions to a significant loss. But while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew you and permit you to move on. Talk about the loss to friends, family, religious leaders, counselors, journal, or read books about loss. Whatever your grief reaction is, it’s important to honor your feelings. Be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.