________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
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
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
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.
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
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.