What is Grief?

Janelle Thompson, MHC-LP February 4, 2021

In 2020, many of us likely experienced grief or a sense of loss to some degree. But what exactly is grief, and how can we best help ourselves and loved ones cope with it?

During a time of so much uncertainty, sickness, and change, the experience of grief and loss is one that binds us. For many, we have never dealt with this type of experience firsthand; it has been something relegated to history. 

Early on, immediately thrust into the unknown, we found ourselves in emotional spaces we had never perhaps occupied, daily attempting to fill a gnawing void or sense of unease. We all lost our “normal,” not to mention the personal, private losses we endured. The grief was omnipresent and changed our landscape— change is the hallmark of grief.

What does grief look like, you may ask? 

It honestly depends. Factors like culture, gender, and religion all play into how grief presents itself. One thing is certain: for those of us having the human experience, it is an unavoidable part of our existence. For many, grief consists of emotions like shock, disbelief, anger, sadness, and guilt after a loss. The keyword here is: loss. Most often, we associate grief with the loss of a person, but grief can also result from: 

  • Loss of a job
  • Loss of financial stability 
  • Loss of a marriage (divorce or widowhood)
  • Loss of a sense of community
  • Loss of friendship (outgrown or ended on a bad note)
  • Loss of a pet 
  • Loss of a pregnancy
  • Loss of safety and protection 
  • Loss of routine 
  • Loss of a hope 

These losses impact our emotions and daily functioning, causing us to grieve, possibly without even knowing it. Maybe you find yourself feeling super emotional every time you think of your deceased loved one or the major life change that has taken place due to quarantine. Perhaps your diet and sleeping patterns have been altered, and you feel like you have bizarre, roller-coaster experiences every few days or weeks. These are just a few common symptoms of grief, and the truth is we all grieve differently.

Have you ever heard there is no right or wrong way to grieve? 

Well, today, let me bring some relief to you and maybe even your family. How we grieve reflects various factors of our personality, coping styles, life experiences, faith tradition, and how significant the loss was on a personal level. Your response is unique to you, and your timetable will most likely not follow a linear, textbook pattern. In my years of bereavement counseling, I can confidently say no one’s process is the same, so be patient with yourself and your loved ones. 

8 Ways to Help Cope with Grief

  1. Acknowledge the loss and pain associated with it.
  2. Accept that the loss may trigger you in ways you did not expect, especially in your emotions. 
  3. Learn to sit with those emotions. 
  4. Do not put a timetable on your feelings. Instead, find a way to release them positively. Try writing or putting together something monumental that gives you a sense of closure. 
  5. Please be kind to yourself. Do not compare your process to anyone else’s; understand your process will be unique to your experiences.
  6. Take care of yourself physically, and it will help you emotionally.
  7. Research the stages of grief. Please remember these are not cyclical or linear.
  8. Take your time and maintain your community. No one does this well alone.

Remember, your process can begin today, but true healing happens over time. In the meantime, if you feel like you would like to talk, we are here to help.

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