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Understanding the Process of Grief

The silhouette of a person wearing a baseball cap looking out over a city from an apartment balcony at sunset.

The inevitable truth that we all learn throughout life is that every living thing must die. While this is a recognized fact, understanding grief can be hard for most of us. The truth is that we will face many losses within our lives, some small some significant. Yet where do we learn how to grieve, and when do we get the needed tools to face the grieving process in a healthy manner? Most people will not wake up one morning enthralled with the concept of grief and go searching for answers, however, what does often occur is a cold and harsh forceful push caused by an unfortunate loss. What do we do next? What’s normal? How do we get through something that feels unbearable and unending?
We cannot change what we do not know, so to start let’s try to understand a little more about grief.

Defining Grief

Understanding Grief can be difficult. However, grief is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement; also: a cause of such suffering” (2003). While this definition of grief may seem direct and clear, it doesn’t always feel this clear or understandable. Grief can be complicated, confusing, and contradicting. Many people may also try to hide, minimize or mask their grief.

Symptoms of Grief

While no grief is alike it is common that individuals may experience some or a combination of the following:

  • Intense sadness
  • Depression
  • Uncontrollable emotional responses
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Memory impairment
  • Impaired concentration
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Change in appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities/social isolation
  • Fear of future losses
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional numbness

These are just some of many responses to loss if you are experiencing intensive symptoms it may be helpful to reach out to your doctor or counselor to find what supports may be helpful to processing your grief and decreasing symptoms.

What Causes Grief?

When we think of grief most people think of a death, however grief is a natural process that can occur when we experience an actual loss (death of a loved one, loss of a job, etc.) or a perceived loss (change in relationships, loss of respect from others, change in health, change in faith, etc.).

Myths About Understanding Grief: While it is natural and healthy to grieve when we experience lose many individuals try to mask, ignore, or speed through the process of grieving. Unfortunately, grief is something you must go through not around. There is no quick fix, magic serum, or fast track to grief, however, there is a healthy way to manage grief. The first step toward grief recovery is understanding grief and what to expect and to let go of unhelpful myths and societal expectations of grief. Some common myths about grieving (As expressed by James and Friedman’s Grief Recovery Handbook, 2002) are:

  • Do not feel bad
  • Replace the loss
  • Grieve alone
  • Be strong
  • Keep busy
  • Time heals all wounds

These might be messages you have heard from caregivers, teachers, parents in your life, and while these statements are well meaning they are often unhelpful and untrue. A significant loss cannot be replaced, forgotten, distracted from, or waited out. It takes intentional practice and attending to loss to reach a state of grief recovery.

The Impacts of Grief

Just as each relationship is unique how we process grief is as well. Even shared losses (siblings loss of a parent) may be experienced differently by everyone. Try to be compassionate, don’t compare or judge our experience of grief to others.
Grief is complicated.

Sometimes we grieve things that we didn’t feel love or appreciation for, this may present as a loss of a job we hated or loss of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. This complicated grief experience can feel confusing and individuals may often feel shame or guilt. This inhibits them from reaching out to their support system due to fear of being judged. Remember that grief is natural even if it is confusing or complicated and judging does not help the situation. Give yourself some space and acceptance to your feelings. If you have a support system – reach out! If that does not feel comfortable, it may be helpful to reach out to a counselor.

Developmental Impacts

Our developmental and cognitive states can also have an impact on grief. For instance, when a child experiences a loss at an early age it is common that they will re-experience/re-process this experience throughout development stages of life.

It is also common that significant changes in our life (marriage, children, change in careers, etc.) can also cause us to reprocess or re-examine grief and loss experience in our life. This reprocessing does not usually show a regression in grief rather it is your mind’s way of making sense of a difficult situation through a new “lens”.

Steps to Healing Our Grief

Again, understanding grief can be tricky. Not everyone that experiences loss will need grief counseling to process and manage grief in a healthy way. It is important to remember that grief and loss is a normal and natural process of life. When you experience a loss it’s important to remember:

  • Patience: Change won’t happen overnight
  • Take care of yourself: Taking extra time for you, and engaging in self-care can be helpful and healing
  • Reach out: Contact friends or family, talk about your experiences, people may not know exactly the right thing to say, but sometimes just asking them to listen without trying to fix, change, or understand can be incredibly powerful in the grief process
  • Share: Share how you’re feeling, share memories, share stories.
  • Feel your feeling: Avoiding how you feel will only prolong the grieving process. Journal these feelings to get them out and then plan time to go over them. This will help you “feel through the process”.

You Are Not Alone

Remember, understanding grief and the process is hard and you don’t have do go through the process alone. If you are struggling and want to explore counseling, we can help. Contact us today to find out more.