We’ve all experienced grief at one point or another in our lives. Grief can be overwhelming and confusing, whether it’s the sudden loss of a loved one, the ending of a meaningful relationship, or something else that has caused us profound sadness.
Dealing with these emotions can make grief the overwhelming emotion – seem impossible without understanding how we should handle it.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the question surrounding grief — from its definition to the stages of grief, to some suggestions for recognizing grief counseling and navigating various grieving experiences so you can better understand how to heal after a significant loss.
Grief: What Is It?
Grief can be difficult to define. Everyone experiences it differently and a range of grieved experiences varies based on individual memories and preferences.
At its core, grief stems from the sense of loss due to a loved one or something close to our hearts being gone from our lives. It can occur when someone passes away or when we are faced with powerful feelings of loss following the end of a relationship, a significant change in career path, children growing up or moving away, or a pet dying unexpectedly. In other words, anything that we have an emotional stake in can result in feelings of grief when it is taken from us.
Grief can bring up physical symptoms and emotional expressions, such as sadness, guilt, regret, loneliness, physical pain, and fatigue. Despite these fleeting emotions, raw connections persist and bind us together when confronted with sudden interruptions, time after time bringing back memories.
Different Situations Where Grief May Be Experienced
Although grief is primarily considered a mourning process following the death of a loved one or someone close to us, it can also be experienced in other circumstances. When considering a person with claims of general grief, one should think if they have recently gone through any of the following situations:
- A move to a new home
- A job change or loss of employment
- The end of a significant relationship
- The birth of a child, grandchild, or other close family members
- An unexpected illness or injury (i.e., terminal illness)
- Financial struggles
- Miscarriage or infertility
- Loss of a pet
Other situations not listed here can also result in feelings of grief and loss. It’s important to keep an open mind and be willing to explore a range of emotions as you reflect on your experiences with loss.
Recognizing Symptoms of Grief
When people experience grief, it can be challenging to recognize the signs in which people cope with themselves.
To know if you are grieving, consider if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Regular exhaustion
- Changes in appetite
- Mood swings or irritability
- Withdrawal from activities and social events that were once enjoyable
- Feelings of helplessness, guilt, or shame
- Physical pain or tension in the body
If you happen to find yourself experiencing some of these symptoms after an event that brought on feelings of loss, it’s helpful to remember that grief isn’t always something we can avoid. It is a normal part of life and needs to be acknowledged to be properly processed.
Different Types of Grief
There is no right or wrong way to grieve; the grieving process can look different for everyone. It is important to recognize that grief can come in a variety of forms and manifestations.
Anticipatory grief can be experienced in the face of an unavoidable loss like a terminal illness. This form of grieving sets in before the event, manifesting itself over days, weeks, or even months.
While it can feel overwhelming and intense, anticipatory grief allows us to spend time to prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally for what is to come while having space to process our pain as it gradually presents itself. This way, we may transition more smoothly when the time of death arrives.
Complicated grief is an emotionally challenging phenomenon that can characterize a person’s loss experience. While normal grief tends to resolve itself over time, complicated grief can disrupt the mourning process and cause it to last for a far greater length of time.
This difficulty may stem from unresolved matters or more profound trauma generated by the griever’s prior experiences with chronic illnesses and sudden fatalities.
Grievers with complicated grief are often hard-pressed to recover, finding themselves entering a state of inertia wherein mourning lingers on indefinitely due to previously alluded mental or emotional complications.
When someone experiences a traumatic event, they cannot always access the support and comfort of friends and family as they may feel that their loss is not recognized or validated by society. Such an experience is known as disenfranchised grief.
This type of grief can be incredibly isolating for those going through it, leaving them feeling like they can’t turn to anyone else for understanding or compassion.
Normal grief is a natural reaction to the death of a friend or family member or any other life-altering event that results in a loss. It is a normal response characterized by physical, emotional, and cognitive changes as the griever tries to accept their new reality.
Emotional symptoms such as sadness, guilt, anger, and anxiety are common in normal grief as the griever learns to cope with their loss. Likewise, cognitive shifts like difficulty concentrating or persistent thoughts of the deceased or dying person may arise at this time.
Prolonged grief is a type of grief that lasts for longer than expected. It can occur when the grieving process is not properly addressed, or the griever experiences ongoing trauma or unresolved issues related to their loss.
This is similar to complicated grief, except that prolonged grief may not be caused by unresolved matters or deep trauma. Instead, it can result from a lack of social support, a fear of being forgotten, or an inability to find meaning in death.
The Five Stages of Grief
Developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the five stages of grief are a widely accepted framework to help conceptualize the grieving process. It states that people undergo five mourning stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
- Denial: When confronted with a loss, the griever may experience denial as a form of self-protection. This stage is characterized by disbelief and refusal to accept the reality of the situation. This part of the grieving period may also be accompanied by numbness and other confusing emotions.
- Anger: Anger is an understandable emotion in a problematic situation, and people may find themselves lashing out at those around them or resenting life. Feelings of powerlessness and frustration often accompany this stage.
- Bargaining: During this phase of grieving, the individual may attempt to negotiate to alter their current situation. Phrases like “if only” and “what if” are common in this stage.
- Depression: The emotional pain of loss takes full force during this part of the grieving process. Feelings of guilt, sadness, and regret often arise at this time. Grievers may feel helpless and question life’s meaning when they reach this stage.
- Acceptance: This is the final stage of grief in which individuals accept what has happened and move on with their lives. Though acceptance does not necessarily mean one is healed from grief, it marks an important step toward emotional recovery.
Coping With Grief: How To Cope With Loss and Move Forward
If someone close to you has recently passed away, it is essential to remember that grief is a personal journey. Everyone experiences mourning uniquely; thus, there isn’t one universal solution. Still, some approaches may help manage your sorrow in beneficial ways.
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings
Acknowledging your feelings can be a challenging but essential first step toward healing. Taking the time to honor and accept the range of powerful emotions in the grieving process can give you much-needed mental and emotional relief.
Though it may not seem like it at times, allowing yourself to feel your emotions fully is a sign of inner strength. This willingness is essential for you to move through tough moments healthily and make positive progress in recovery.
2. Stay Connected to Others
You may not feel like being social right now, but reaching out to friends and family members who will support you in their own way during this challenging time is beneficial. They can provide what nothing else can: comfort in times of sadness and depression.
Staying connected with strong and caring individuals who understand your situation can make an immense difference in dealing with grief — it helps chip away at feelings of loneliness.
It might take effort to push yourself to interact with others, but it is worth the work. Your support system cares about you and wants the best for you. Go to them for their knowledge, support group and empathy. Doing so will aid greatly in managing grief.
3. Find Healthy Ways To Process Your Feelings
It’s important to find constructive ways to address our feelings. Processing emotions can be an art, but it is valuable when we master it as a healthy coping strategy and self-care practice. Take some time to reflect on how your emotions and a situation affect each other. Unpacking your emotions in daily written reflections or talking through your thoughts with a friend can help lay the groundwork for productive change in tough times.
If the burden of the day feels too loaded, don’t hesitate to contact a professional like a psychologist or grief counselor for additional support from their tailored services.
4. Celebrate the Life of Your Loved One
Honoring your loved one’s life can help you cope with grief. This could mean telling stories, sharing memories, or even celebrating holidays in a unique way to remember them. Keeping their memory alive is a way to show appreciation for their impact on your daily life and preserve it for years.
Some hold celebrations of life to commemorate their loved one’s life and celebrate it with others who also know them. Whether you choose to honor your loved ones publicly or privately, this ritual can be a powerful way of connecting with them even after passing.
5. Find Inner Strength
In times of grief, it may seem like the world has collapsed, and you have no power to carry on. However, it’s essential to remember that grief doesn’t last forever — you have the inner strength for healing and can make it through this challenging time in your life.
Developing resilience and finding strength within yourself to move on is essential for the grieving process. Focus on small victories like taking a shower, eating healthy meals, or doing an activity you enjoy, as they can help strengthen you emotionally step by step until full recovery.
Everyone experiences grief differently, and it is crucial to find the right coping strategies that work for you. Know that you are not alone in your experience experiencing grief, no matter your age or what kind of loss you have encountered.
Eternally Loved is here for you in times of grief, providing many services to commemorate your beloved’s life. We encourage you to seek support that will help lift you and guide you toward strength needed so that you can honor your loved one’s memory with courage and grace.