What is Grief?
Unfortunately, death and loss in all their forms are facts of life. We must face the complex realities of experiencing a significant loss at some point. We will likely experience a profound grieving period when this occurs. Grief is an unavoidable and important part of coming to terms with an impactful loss.
But what exactly is grief? Grief is the human being’s natural response to losing someone or something important to them. However, grief is multi-faceted. There is no universal way in which grief is experienced. It comes in many forms, sometimes becoming ingrained in our daily lives, affecting us in ways that can be harmful over time if not treated. This is especially true if you do not know what signs to look for—let alone what name to apply to the thoughts, feelings, and even actions you are going through.
The Five Stages of Grief
The “Five Stages of Grief” model is the most commonly referenced understanding of how grief is experienced. The model states that we encounter five stages of emotional response during the grieving process, including:
Bear in mind that this is not the only grief model; others include additional stages further outlining what may occur during the recovery from loss.
What Else Should I Know About Grief?
Grief is difficult to understand since it is experienced so much differently by each individual and even based on each particular loss for that individual. However, there are some commonalities that you may wish to keep in mind as you try to understand your emotional response to a painful loss.
When considering grief, try to remember the following:
- Grief is Not Linear: The stages of grief are rarely felt in any particular order. This is not unusual, nor does it represent a characterological flaw. There may be many perfectly valid reasons for feeling denial or anger before or after any other stage. Connecting with a professional to better understand your grief process can be extremely beneficial on many levels.\
- Grief Follows No Timeline: Grief begins when it begins and ends when it ends (although it may never really end completely). There is no precise or measurable timeline for how long it will last. Often, a deep sadness may emerge a year or more down the road, taking you by surprise and causing a sense of confusion.
It may be triggered by virtually anything—perhaps a specific scent in the air reminds you of someone you lost, or you saw an image, show, or movie about a job loss. In a rush, those familiar feelings of worry may surface again, causing you to think about other troubling experiences that could threaten your attachments or livelihood. It can be a significant source of anxiety.
- Loss is Ambiguous Sometimes: Sometimes, when we suffer a loss, there is no closure or resolution. We may not even be able to pinpoint the exact nature of the loss, when it occurred, or know how to resolve or process it effectively. For example, during the months of isolation during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many were subjected to deep losses through their isolation—loss of social connections, family, friends, opportunities to interact with others, routines, and more. There was no closure or resolution in connection with many of these losses, making it challenging to process.
Some additional examples that illustrate the ambiguity of loss are a parent or caregiver living with dementia who is gradually losing their ability to remember core members of their family or past experiences or a family that is unaccepting of their LGBTQIA+ identifying child (of any age) who has the unfair expectation that they should change or hide their identity.**
Surviving Grief Day by Day
There are many different ways to overcome grief after facing a loss. Perhaps most important is taking the time necessary to process and deal with the emotions encountered along the path through grief. However, you can also use certain tactics to make day-to-day life somewhat easier during this challenging time.
Some other ways to more effectively manage grief daily include:
- Remind yourself that healing from loss takes time and patience.
- Know that healing is much easier with the right support system, including friends, family, mental health professionals, and others.
- Remember, any movement or mental activity is good! Aim to get outside for a 20-30 minute walk daily, connect with a friend at your favorite cafe, and use your creativity to write, draw, perform, or do whatever you enjoy. This will help you work through your feelings and boost your general mental and physical health and well-being. When you are feeling good, make a list of options to refer to when you need to do something positive during moments of deep sadness.
- Above all, keep in mind that your feelings and health always matter. Be sure to treat yourself with the utmost kindness during this difficult time—and permit yourself to feel your feelings, regardless of what they may be at the time.
You Can Make it Through
Grief is hard, but there’s no way around it. You must go through it to come out on the other side. Hopefully, acquiring some knowledge on the stages of grief will help you pinpoint where your emotions are and how to process them and move forward. By learning how to better care for yourself during this time, you will be able to manage your hardest days—and, in turn, help others when they are experiencing their grieving processes.
Most importantly, you can make it through. Don’t forget that.
– Dr. Nick
** Look out for more on ambiguous loss and family rejection of their LGBTQ+ children in a future post.
Disclaimer: Content on my blog or any other social media platform is meant for psychoeducational purposes only. The content is not intended to replace treatment from a licensed professional.