Updated: Jun 10, 2021
Grief and loss is a part of the human experience. We all grieve the loss of something or someone in our lifetime, and everyone has their own way of going through this process.
There are many different types of loss one can experience in their life, all which come with different grieving processes.
One may experience the loss of a loved one or a pet, changes in relationships such as divorce or breakups, loss of health, loss of a dream or opportunity, loss of an important role or change in lifestyle such as in retirement, loss of a job or financial stability, loss of a friendship, loss of physical abilities, or loss of a material item.
The list of potential losses one may experience in their lifetime is endless, and the varying grieving processes that follow a loss are similarly extensive.
What is grief?
Grief is the process of coming to terms with a loss one has experienced. It involves working through some of the common emotions that come up when one loses something important in their life. Common emotions, described by Swiss psychiatrist Kubler-Ross include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, more often than not these emotions are not experienced in a linear fashion or in stages as Kubler-Ross postulated. These feelings come up throughout the grieving process: you may be angry one minute, feeling happy the next, or perhaps depressed or fearful in the next moment. Sometimes these emotions feel stronger at one time or another: sometimes feeling all-consuming, sometimes like a scratch. Emotions associated with grief can feel messy and complicated, contradictory to one another and confusing. If you do not feel certain things: that is ok. Your grief is your own and you have the right to feel however you want.
"The loss of a loved one is similar to an amputation: it is permanent and sticks with you"
Coping with grief
There is no right or wrong way to cope with a loss: everyone has their own process. Grieving “appropriately” doesn’t necessarily involve crying or attending funerals, it can look like many different things.
Here are some general strategies that may help you move through the grief and come to terms with the loss you have experienced:
Stop Comparing Yourself
Comparing your own grieving process to others isn’t helpful and may leave you feeling stuck or abnormal. Rather than comparing yourself to others or judging others for their grief process, focus on what it is for you. Everyone expresses emotions and experiences grief in their own way, and that is ok if it is different from yours.
If you don’t cry, that is ok: Not everyone cries when they experience loss.
If you feel you need time off from work, that is ok. If you don’t feel like you need time off, that is ok too.
If you are angry and others are sad, that is ok. We don’t have to experience the same things at the same time as others, or do the same things as others to work through our losses.
Grief is complicated and messy, everyone processes loss in a different way and that is ok.
Acknowledge your pain
Allowing yourself to feel your emotions rather than pushing them away or ignoring them can help you work through them. Pushing your emotions away makes it worse when you finally feel it. Think of the pressure building up when you shake a bottle of soda, eventually if you keep shaking that bottle it is going to burst. Emotions are like that: if we stuff them down to the darkest depths of our souls they may pop out when we least expect it.
"Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it."
~Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire
Lean on others
Having others around you can help ease the burden of sorting through complicated feelings. Leaning on family and friends during a time of loss may provide opportunities to express your emotions, talk about what you are feeling, and heal together. Surrounding yourself with others who accept and understand what you are going through can help you feel supported and get you through the tough moments.
Let go of “being strong”
Often people will find a need to “be strong” when facing a loss by putting on a “brave face” for others who are going through grief. The problem with denying your feelings and trying to “act normal” is that it doesn’t honor your own grief process and it doesn’t allow you to work through your own feelings. Ignoring the pain doesn’t make it go away, and it may affect you in ways you are not aware such as at work or school, or in your relationships.
Give yourself time, but not a time limit
Grief is a process that occurs over time. Allowing yourself time to grieve is important, but how much time is up to you and no one gets to dictate that you have grieved long enough, or not enough. Some even argue that there is no end to the grief process, but rather that it changes over time: your emotions get less intense, you may be able to function better and get back to your everyday life, but the underlying emotions and feelings of loss are still there. You may find that you experience emotions associated with the loss throughout your lifetime, not just in the few days, weeks and months immediately following the loss.
Talk about it
A family member, friend, or your therapist are great ears to utilize when you are feeling the wealth of complicated emotions that come with grief. Talk about your feelings, beloved memories, ways you can honor your loss. Exploring these areas can help you come to terms with what you have experienced.
Keep up with your health
In times of grief it is often difficult to keep up with our regular routine and important foundations of mental health such as sleep, eating and exercise. While you may not feel like eating, completing basic hygiene or getting out of bed: keeping a regular routine will help you cope with the stress of grief and loss.
Further Reading, Media and Resources about Grief
Interested in learning more about grief or exploring others experiences of grief? check out these recommended materials:
Star Trek Next Generation: Season 5 Episode 24 "The Next Phase"
Glee: Season 5 Episode 3 "The Quarterback"
What Dreams May Come (1998)
The Mourner's Book of Courage: 30 Days of Encouragement by Alan D. Wolfelt