What is Grief?

Each human is unique. We possess distinct perspectives and behaviors. One thing we all share in common is that we will experience loss. Grief is a word used to describe how we react to such loss. No two people grieve the same. There is no one “right” way to mourn. The bereavement process has some universal threads, but there is no blueprint or timetable to follow—and that’s a good thing.

Some folks go numb. Others cover up the pain by being active. You’ve surely encountered those who openly discuss their grief and will experience crying spells. The possibilities are endless, and not a single one of them is predictable.

We Cannot Prepare For Loss

Even if we know a loved one is about to die, grief can still come on like a tidal wave. Here are a few common realizations you may encounter:

Grief is Not Linear

You may have read about the “stages” of grief. This list can be helpful in making you feel more comfortable with what you feel. But those stages are not a script. We do not grieve in a linear manner. The feelings and stages come and go. This may continue for a long time.

Grief Does Not End Your Connection

The person who died is no longer with you in a material sense. But they can stay with you in so many other ways. It will be different, of course. Your entire life may feel different, in fact. Rest assured, however, that grief does not erase memories, emotions, and a sense of connectedness.

Grief Changes You

It could rearrange some beliefs. Depending on who died, the bereavement period could involve some dramatic changes in your daily life.

Grief is a Form of Personal Expression

Again, do not compare your grief to that of others. Only you can feel what you need to feel. So, run your race and let others process it in their own way.

Two Common Kinds of Grief Experiences


When a loved one dies unexpectedly, the general reaction is to feel shocked. You may not be able to immediately accept reality. So many emotions can arise, e.g.:

  • Confusion: How and why did this happen?
  • Guilt: Why didn’t I tell them how much they mean to me?
  • Anger: How could they (or God) do this to me?

Any kind of loss is a good reason to speak with a therapist. Sudden loss makes it especially important to find someone to talk with as soon as possible.


As jolting as a sudden loss can be, anticipatory grief can be agonizing. In some cases, you may be watching a loved one slowly die. Knowing in advance creates the illusion that you have time to prepare, but, as stated above, the pain of loss will not be denied.

Anticipatory grief does offer some “advantages:”

  • You usually have the opportunity to tell the person how much you love them and to express gratitude
  • Finding out exactly what the person wants in terms of services, memorials, funerals, etc.
  • Working out those details in advance

Symptoms of Grief

To repeat, this can vary widely. However, some symptoms that appear most often are:

  • Physical problems related to bodily pain, digestive problems, and sleep disturbances
  • Emotional signs like anger and irritability, being distracted and unfocused, and despair
  • Spiritual shifts like enduring a crisis of faith or being drawn closer to your spiritual center

Coping With Grief

There are countless practical self-help suggestions to consider—from daily self-care to journaling. Such proactive steps are vital. In addition, it is highly recommended to speak with a professional. Processing grief is a challenge best met with the support of someone who understands what you are experiencing.

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