Grief is a natural response to loss, particularly as a result of the death of a loved one, but can also be in reaction to a major, often unexpected, life change. This will usually result in a strong, and sometimes overwhelming rollercoaster of different emotions. Although conventionally focused on its emotional response to loss, grief also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, spiritual, and philosophical dimensions. While the terms are often used interchangeably, bereavement, or a bereaved person, refers to the state of loss, and grief is the reaction to that loss.
Some examples of loss include the death of loved ones, the ending of an important relationship or job, traumatizing loss through theft, or the loss of independence through disability. Grief is both a universal and an individual experience. Personal experiences of normal grief vary and are influenced by the nature of the loss.
If you or a loved one is experiencing major loss, consider connecting with a mental health professional through Advekit, a therapy matching service that makes finding mental healthcare easy and accessible.
While grief won’t feel the same for everyone, deep sadness, intense sorrow, and anger are common experiences in grief. Often, people find themselves engaging in behaviors that are different or unusual, such as thinking in ways that feel unfamiliar, or disturbing. Those experiencing conventional grief or anticipatory grief may find themselves feeling numb and removed from daily life, unable to carry on with regular duties due to feeling overcome with the weight of loss. Some feel that their beliefs are challenged in grief, and it’s not uncommon for people to experience a kind of “spiritual crisis” following a loss.
In general, grief opens up thoughts, behaviors, feelings, and beliefs that might have been considered abnormal or unusual before the loss. While most of the components of grief are, in fact, quite normal, grief counseling is a form of psychotherapy commonly sought out to help in coping throughout the stages of grief. More on that in a bit.
Grief is a completely individual experience and has no timeline. Mourning can last for months or even years. Generally, the pain subsides as time passes and, as the loss becomes further away from the everyday life of the mourner. Grief happens in phases, as those come to terms with the loss. While the grieving process cannot be controlled, it’s helpful to understand the reasons behind the painful emotions. Remember: all people experience grief differently. While it’s no longer considered the ideal way to think about grief, the following are commonly associated feelings surrounding the stages of grief:
Denial: Declaring the loss to be untrue as a defense mechanism, or a temporary way to deal with the rush of overwhelming emotion.
Anger: Once reality sets in, the pain of the loss soon follows with feelings of frustration and helplessness. These feelings typically turn into anger that may be directed toward others, a higher power, or life in general. To be angry with a loved one who died is natural, too.
Bargaining: During this stage, feelings of what could have been done to prevent the loss begin to dwell. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…”
Depression: As one begins to understand the loss and its subsequent effect on life, a deep sadness can set in. Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues, and a decreased appetite, feeling overwhelmed, regretful, and lonely.
Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, the reality of the loss is finally accepted. And, although thoughts of the loss may still be painful, the griever can begin moving forward with life.
There is no timetable for how long grief lasts or a blueprint for how you should feel after a particular time. After a year or more, it may still feel as if everything happened yesterday, or it could just easily feel like it all happened a lifetime ago.
Every grieving person goes through phases of grief in their own way and experiences different symptoms along the way. Some may vacillate between them or skip one or more stages altogether. Reminders of the loss, like the anniversary of a death, or a familiar song, or memory, can trigger the return of grief.
It is common for friends and family to encourage the griever to move on, even before the person is ready, or not through their stages. In the case of death, friends and family might suggest that the person who passed would not want to see a prolonged state of grief. Even if well-intentioned, these comments and some of the expectations and pressure applied by other people can make the grief worse.
It’s important for the griever to not put pressure on themselves to feel better or move on because other people think they should. They should, instead, be compassionate with themselves and take the space and time needed to grieve.
How a person experiencing grief feels, and for how long, depends on a range of things, including the relationship with the loss and the stage of life. It is completely normal to live with a deep sense of sadness for a prolonged period. People sometimes make assumptions about what a griever should be doing or have done and see these activities as markers of how ‘well’ they’re doing.
Again, there is no right or wrong time for doing things. A person should only do things at the time that feels right for them. Other people are naturally better, or faster at coping than others due to a variety of factors including personality, level of support, and amount of closure to the loss. Comparing how a person grieves and the length of time they do so with others is very common but is unproductive and unnecessary. It’s important to remember that even though a person who is grieving the loss of a loved one may be mourning the same person as another, the relationship was very different, and the grief will be varied as well.
These differences mean it’s not possible to compare one person’s feelings to another’s. It’s also good to be cognizant that how people feel or cope in front of others might not be the same as when they are by themselves. They may seem fine in public, but feel distressed in private.
Don’t put expectations on anyone who is grieving, especially when it comes to how long the healing process takes.
Experts advise those grieving to realize they can't control the process and should prepare for varying stages of grief. Understanding why they're suffering can help tremendously, as can talking to others and trying to resolve issues that cause significant emotional pain, such as feeling guilty for a loved one's death.
The pain of grief can often cause someone, who is normally extremely socially vibrant, to want to withdraw from others. But having the face-to-face support of friends and family is vital to healing from loss. Even if talking about these feelings under normal circumstances feels difficult, it’s important to express them during the grief process. Comfort can also come from just being around others who care. The key is to avoid complete isolation.
Many who are experiencing grief turn to resources for support. Those resources may include:
Religious or spiritual leaders, or community
A support group
Therapist or grief counselor
If the feelings of grief are too much to bear, grief therapy can help in processing the unique emotions and stages. Grief therapy is a specialized type of counseling that aims at helping people who have experienced a major loss. An experienced mental health professional can help navigate the intense emotions and overcome obstacles to one’s individual grieving experience.
Grief therapy sessions can take form individually, with a partner, or in a support group setting. Sessions will focus on assisting people by working through their anger, or sadness, dealing with lingering guilt, and learning the coping mechanisms that can help them move forward with their lives.
Part of this counseling is tailored to learning about the grief process and what to expect as a patient copes with a major loss. During therapy, patients are taught the normal grieving process, including familiar feelings and thoughts.
Whether a griever chooses group therapy, individual, or both, here are some of the things that can be expected to cover in grief therapy:
Establishing a new perspective
Opening up to new relationships, or opportunities
Finding an identity post-loss
Additionally, patients will learn how to distinguish what normal grieving looks like, as compared to other mental health conditions that can develop from grieving, such as depression, or anxiety.
Although it looks like depression, the pain associated with grief is usually temporary, and will eventually begin to subside. When grief strikes, it’s normal to experience anger, sadness, and confusion, but if these feelings do not go away or present themselves in the form of high functioning depression, extra support may be helpful. Talking to a grief therapist is a helpful way to transition from a dark period marked by loss onto a new path forward. There is no reason to grieve alone.
If you need help getting through a difficult time, we can help match you with a therapist who specializes in grief therapy. With Advekit, you can find a great match in a matter of minutes and easily navigate the insurance process to make sure you’re getting the best rate possible.