Understanding the Unique Grieving Process

What is Grief?

Death and loss are facts of life. We all 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 essential part of coming to terms with loss.

But what is grief? It is a natural response to losing someone or something. However, grief is multi-faceted. There is no universal way in which it is experienced. It comes in many forms, sometimes becoming ingrained in our daily lives and affecting us in ways that can be harmful over time. This is especially true if you do not know what signs to look for or 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 method of understanding how grief is experienced. The model states that we go through five stages of emotional response to grief: 

  • Denial
  • Bargaining
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

This is not the only grief model, though. Others include additional stages 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 differently by each individual. However, there are some common beliefs about grief.

  • 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 can help you understand your grieving process. 
  • Grief follows no timeline: Grief begins and ends when it ends (although it may never really end ultimately). 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.
  • Grief can be triggered by anything: A specific scent in the air may remind you of someone you lost an image, or you may see a picture, 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 attachment or livelihood. This can be a significant source of anxiety.
  • Loss can be ambiguous: Sometimes, there is no closure or resolution when we experience loss. We may not even be able to pinpoint its nature, when it occurred, or how to resolve or process it effectively. For example, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people suffered deep losses. They lost 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 ambiguous 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
  • A family that is unaccepting of their LGBTQIA+ identifying child (of any age) who is unfairly expected to change or hide their identity.**

Surviving Grief Each Day

There are various ways to overcome grief. Perhaps most important is taking the time to process and deal with the emotions that arise during the grieving process. You can also use specific tactics to make day-to-day life somewhat more manageable. 

  • Remind yourself that healing from loss takes time and patience.
  • Know that healing is easier with the right support system, including friends, family, mental health professionals, and others.
  • Remember that 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 mental and physical health and well-being. When you are feeling good, list options to refer to when you need to do something positive during moments of deep sadness.
  • Remember 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.

You Can Make it Through

Grief is complicated, but there’s no way around it. Going through it to come out on the other side would be best. Hopefully, understanding 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 most challenging 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 posts on ambiguous loss and family rejection of their LGBTQ+ children. 

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.


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