Is this grief?
One of the biggest questions I am asked is "What is grief?"
Grief is a normal human response to the loss of someone or something loved. The love doesn't have to mean romantically loved, but anything that has an emotional connectivity for a person, for example, the separation or end of a relationship, loss of employment, loss of a home, necklace or even the loss of a pet. Sometimes a person may need to grieve for a part of themselves that they have lost, whether it be a physical part or a change in lifestyle, grieving for an old way of living.
Grief affects people in different ways, it depends on a lot of factors such as, what type of loss was suffered? What has the person been taught growing up about grief? Whether you are male or female, as in some societies men are taught to hide emotion - "men don't cry". And, in some cultures, it is not acceptable to grieve and people are encouraged to hide their grief. Does society tell us after a certain length of time we should be "over it by now"? All these have an impact on how grief will be experienced by the individual.
Is there a difference between grief and bereavement?
Grief is a feeling or emotion when there is a loss or death of a loved one. Grief is a reaction to the loss.
Bereavement is a state of being, an experience of losing something or someone they valued. The word bereavement comes from an ancient German word which means "seize by violence". It can feel just like that when we experience a loss, feeling a loved one has been forcibly taken from us. Today, bereavement is used to describe a period of grief and mourning that a human experiences after someone close to them dies.
It is useful to highlight that there is no set pattern or way to grieve. There are certain stages of grief but, again, there is no set stage to go through before a person moves on to the next stage. These stages can be re-visited at any time and there is no time limit for a period of grief.
I like to think of grief as a wave that can come and go. The wave can be high and feel intense and we can struggle to ride it, or it can be a low wave that is going back out to sea that feels manageable.
What are the stages of grief?
There are several models with differing stages of grief. This following one is the most commonly known from Kubler-Ross - the five-stage model and, later, a sixth stage was added.
1. Denial - quite often a person experiences a state of shock or numbness and cannot accept the reality of the loss.
2. Anger - this stage is necessary for the healing process, underneath the anger is the pain, feeling abandoned.
3. Bargaining - "if only it was me", phrases. "Why couldn't they have lived" or "what if'" statements.
4. Depression - we try to resist the reality because reality means we are "ok", so we suppress the reality to not feel "ok", depriving ourselves of love and connection and things we enjoy.
5. Acceptance - normally confused with feeling "ok", "moving on", when it is just accepting the reality the loved has physically gone.
6. Finding meaning - Being able to remember the loved one without pain, honouring their memory.
I can remember my therapist telling me that I would need to grieve for the "old me", after a life-changing event. I found this difficult and challenging because in my mind I was still the "old me". When I looked in the mirror I saw the "old me". How could I grieve for something I didn't want to accept had been lost?
Yet, as I worked on understanding that life changes all the time, I change all the time, I can never be the same. Every time I wake up, I will have changed in some way. Slowly I could start to grieve. If I am honest I had already been in some stages of grief; bargaining, why me? Anger, I got angry easily. Depression, well this was why I had sought therapy. Finally, I found the acceptance of what had happened and how I could move forward, finding meaning of who this "new me" was.
I can also clearly remember when I experienced the loss of my father how these stages hit me at different times with no set pattern and even going back and re-visiting a stage I had already experienced. I learned it was OK to just let these feelings happen, I listened to me and not what people were telling me. And I now know that, when someone is grieving, the best thing you can do is to just sit with them and allow that person to express their feelings, emotions, to be beside them in their grief and let it happen in their way.
Some common physical symptoms of grief that could indicate someone is grieving are:
- difficulty sleeping
- feeling isolated or detached from reality
- changes in diet
- aches and pains
- feelings of guilt
If you are concerned you may be experiencing grief but are unsure, look at how you are feeling. What it is that you have lost? Look at how that relationship felt to you, was it a physical attachment or an emotional attachment? If you can recognise any of the above symptoms or feelings, then it is possible you are grieving.
Specialist bereavement charities such as Cruse can help you to process these feelings and understand the stages, or seek out a grief counsellor who can help you to ride the wave of grief and, of course, your local GP can help with medications to ease the physical symptoms, if needed. Most of all, remember grief is a personal journey.
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