Grief is a complex, overwhelming process individuals go through in face of loss. This past year and a half in particular, we all have collectively grieved, whether it is losing our sense of normalcy, interactions or loved ones. Affecting everyone regardless of demographic and background, grief is a universal and personal experience.
Overview of Grief
Grief is a natural response to loss and is commonly associated with the death of a loved one. However, grief extends into other losses, including:
- Divorce or relationship breakup
- Dissolution of a friendship
- Changed routine
- Completion of school or internship
- Financial instability
- Decline in physical and/or mental health
- Terminal diagnosis
- Insecurity after a traumatic experience
- Job or home relocation
- Loss of a pet
Symptoms of Grief
While people are affected by loss differently, many people experience a variation of the following emotional and physical symptoms of grief:
Emotional symptoms of grief:
- Shock and disbelief
- Suicidal ideation
Physical symptoms of grief:
- Lowered immunity
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Aches and pains
Five Stages of Grief
In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, introduced the five stages of grief. Contrary to popular belief, those grieving do not need to go through all of the stages, nor in subsequential order. Not meant to be a rigid, linear framework, the five stages of grief are:
- Denial, which involves the belief that the loss was a mistake or untrue.
- Anger, which includes frustration and the externalization of grief through anger.
- Bargaining, which consists of hope and negotiation for a better outcome.
- Depression, which includes sadness, despair and isolation.
- Acceptance, which entails the embracement of the loss.
Types of Grief
In addition to conventional grief where an individual may experience the above grieving symptoms following a loss, there are other types of grief that fall outside the expected reactions and symptoms, including:
- Anticipatory grief
- Anticipatory grief develops before a significant loss occurs (e.g. terminal illness). Facing imminent loss, some may consider this type of grief as losing hope, while others may view it as a chance to prepare, resolve any unfinished business and develop closure.
- Disenfranchised grief
- Disenfranchised grief occurs when a loss is stigmatized or devalued. Often minimized, individuals experiencing disenfranchised grief may feel invalidated and/or unable to mourn openly. Some examples are: having a miscarriage, losing a loved one to suicide and losing someone not accepted by others (e.g. same-sex partner).
- Complicated grief
- Complicated grief arises when the grieving individual is stuck in the state of bereavement, and is unable to feel the grieving process dissipate. Chronic and debilitating, this type of grief can lead to maladaptive thoughts and dysfunctional behaviors.
Coping Skills for Grieving
Since the grieving process takes time and unfolds differently for everyone, it is important to practice self-compassion and patience throughout the healing journey. Some advice for coping with grief and loss are:
- Acknowledge the pain
- Be patient with yourself
- Spend time grieving intentionally
- Seek social support (e.g. bereavement support group, family members and friends)
- Talk to a grief counselor or therapist
- Express your feelings in creative, healthy ways (e.g. journaling, volunteering and scrapbooking)
- Maintain your interests, hobbies and routine
- Care for your physical health (e.g. get enough sleep, eat sufficiently and exercise)
- Plan for potential triggers (e.g. anniversaries, holidays and milestones)
- Create traditions to honor and celebrate the loved one
Myths and Facts about Grief
There are several misconceptions about grieving that perpetuate confusion, shame, unrealistic expectations and more. Some of the myths and facts are:
- Myth: Grieving should last about a year.
- Fact: There is no “normal” timeline for grieving. In reality, the duration of the grieving process differs for each individual.
- Myth: Grieving has an endpoint.
- Fact: Grief is not linear, and does not have an endpoint. But rather, grief may change overtime and become more manageable.
- Myth: Ignoring the pain makes it go away faster.
- Fact: Neglecting to address your grief is counterintuitive and detrimental. The longer you avoid acknowledging the pain, the more difficult it becomes to cope in a healthy manner.
- Myth: Not crying means you are not remorseful about the loss.
- Fact: While crying is a common response to grief, it is not the only valid reaction. Those who do not cry feel the pain as equally as those who do.
- Myth: Moving on means you have forgotten your loved one.
- Fact: Moving on simply means you have accepted your loved one’s death- it does not mean you have disregarded or dismissed your loved one’s memories and significance.
No grieving responses and timelines are inherently right or wrong- each individual’s experience with grief is unique and equally valid. It is normal to grieve the loss of a person, animal, situation or relationship that holds special significance to you- regardless of how others may view your loss. As grief can be incredibly difficult and overwhelming, it is important to take the grieving process day by day, practice self-compassion and utilize healthy coping skills.
Guest Blogger: Jennifer Wendell, MHA Intern
Jennifer Wendell is a recent cum laude graduate of University of Delaware with dual degrees in Human Services- Clinical Concentration and Sociology. She is currently interning with MHA, and hopes to become a helping professional in the mental health field.