Honoring Grief and Loss
While grief and loss is a part of life, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. There are many forms of grief, types of loss, and ways that grief can look. Nevertheless, honoring loss is an important part of the grieving process, and everyone deserves space and time for healing no matter the circumstance.
Forms of Grief
The most common form of grief that is discussed is simple grief which involves loss that is intermingled with both painful and positive experiences and emotions; nevertheless, there are other forms of grief that go beyond what is often considered “normal” or “typical” grief. Anticipatory grief is when one is expecting an impending loss whereas traumatic grief would be sudden, unexpected loss that occurs after a terrible event that results in trauma symptoms. Complicated grief is often more severe than simple grief and doesn’t improve over time which may make recovery difficult, and chronic grief is prolonged grieving. Abbreviated grief is genuine, but short-lived. However, masked grief, inhibited grief, and absent grief are all characterized by suppressing grief symptoms, restricting expressed emotion, or not showing any typical signs of grief such as sadness, missing, crying, and lethargy. Grief can also be delayed, where it doesn’t appear directly after the loss, or cumulative, where multiple losses occur all at once or another loss occurs before being able to process an earlier loss. Grief can also result in behavioral changes or extreme symptoms such as in distorted grief or exaggerated grief. Secondary loss describes all of the unexpected losses that are associated with direct loss. Lastly, some grief is collective which means that an entire society is affected by a traumatic event whereas other grief is disenfranchised and not acknowledged or seen as legitimate by society at all. The way we experience loss and are supported through the grief cycle can have a major impact on the way our grief presents as well as how much access we have to healing.
Types of Loss
When people think of loss, they may think of the death of a loved one; however, loss can involve a plethora of situations outside the realm of physical death. Loss can include divorce, separation, and even marriage because it involves the loss of unmarried life. Imprisonment, losing one’s job, retiring, or foreclosure are also examples of loss that may result in grief. In addition, a child leaving home, pregnancy, relationship or sexual difficulties, and business or financial change can also include a grieving process. Any change in lifestyle, whether it be related to health, sleep, eating, independence, activities, work, or school requires an adjustment period of leaving behind one “normal” for the next. Globally, every community around the world has experienced pandemic-related grief moving through the waves and adjusting to the many losses and changes that have occurred. Loss can be not only physical loss but also emotional loss such as losing a sense of safety, trust, approval, control, freedom, and autonomy. Even positive changes may involve the grief cycle and stages as they often involve beginnings as well as endings.
Presentation of Grief
What is grief and what does grief look like? There is no one way that grief shows up in the mind, body, heart, and spirit. Grief can manifest as sadness, depression, shock, denial, disbelief, numbness, panic, confusion, anger, hostility, overwhelm, or even relief as well as a mix of emotions. Grief can also show up physically in the body through sleep problems, changes in appetite, and health problems. Many people may withdraw from others when experiencing grief and loss whereas others may want to be with loved ones all the time to aid in coping. However your grief presents is valid, and you deserve support in whatever ways feel best for you.
Grief Cycle and Stages
The grief cycle consists of the stages of denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. Some people may experience these stages in a different order, not at all, or experience some waves of grief multiple times. When one is in the shock and denial stage, they may not be able to fully grasp that the loss has occurred. This is often a protective mechanism that allows people space before the reality of the situation has sunk in. It is also common to experience feelings of anger accompanied with the grieving process, which is another protective emotion designed to instill action and allow space until the person is ready to process deeper. Grief and loss can also manifest as depression symptoms as many of the signs are similar such as self-isolation, lack of energy, loss of appetite, sleeping problems, and other mental and physical changes. Bargaining might look like trying to change the loss that has occurred to better cope with grief. Lastly, eventually those who are grieving will come to a place of acceptance where they are able to sit with and perhaps partner with their grief.
Just as the grieving process is so personal and unique to each individual, honoring the grief cycle is also meant to be tailored to each person or community’s needs. If one is experiencing the loss of a loved one, whether that be through death or other circumstances, they may find solace in writing letters or sending messages to their loved one expressing any feelings they have about the loss as well as what the person may have missed. With other forms of loss or lifestyle changes, some may find it helpful to honor past chapters of life by creating a memory box to commemorate the special time period and have something to look back on. Beginnings can be celebrated like other holidays and traditions, and endings can be mourned whether that is in the form of a “funeral-like” observance or different type of honoring method. Working with a mental health professional can aid in the grieving process, no matter what it looks like. Embrace Therapy is here to help you on your journey with grief and loss.