What Is Grief?
Grief is an emotion - a natural response to loss - and the emotional pain felt when something or someone is taken away from their loved one. Most people associate grief with the death of a loved person, but grief can be the result of many different situations. These situations can include:
- Pet Loss
- Loss of a long-loved dream
- Loss of a friendship
- Serious illness of a loved one
- Becoming chronically ill
- Breakup of a romantic relationship
- Losing a job
The greater and more profound the loss, the more intense the feelings of grief may be. It's important to remember that even the smallest of losses can lead to grieving - moving to another city, graduating high school, changing jobs, retiring - these are all events that can lead to grief.
What Are Some Common Signs Of Grief?
Losses and grief are as individual as the person experiencing it, but often, the emotions that are associated with grief and loss can be confusing, overwhelming, and scary. Here are some of the most common signs and feelings associated with grief and grieving:
Guilt - many people who are grieving report feeling guilty for things left unsaid to the deceased. Others may feel guilt if they are relieved that their loved one has passed from a chronic illness. Still others may feel guilt for not preventing the death - even if the death wasn't preventable.
Shock - in the immediate time frame after a loss, many people feel shock and disbelief that their loved one has actually died. This may lead to feelings of numbness, disbelief that the death is real, and an inability to accept the truth.
Sadness - one of the most common signs of grief is an overwhelming sadness. Someone who is grieving may feel lonely, empty inside, despairing, or emotionally unstable.
Anger - whether or not the death was not anyone's fault, many people feel anger and resentment after a loss. This anger may be directed at the deceased, yourself, God, the doctors who didn't prevent the loss.
Fear - a large loss can trigger many fears and worries, anxiety and insecurity. Many people report panic attacks after the death of a loved one. The death of someone you love can remind you of your own mortality and make you wonder how you can face your life without that person.
Losing a loved one - be it a friend, family member, beloved pet, or a child - is one of the most challenging parts of life. No matter how natural death is, the grief associated with losing a loved one comes with very strong emotions like depression, guilt, and anger. Many times, those who have lost a loved one feel both alone and socially isolated from the rest of the world, which is why it's so important to have someone to lean on during the grieving process.
Knowing the stages of grief will help you understand some of the things they are feeling: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Also knowing that there is no timeline on grief, that it can take a year or ten or forever, will help you understand the person you are trying to comfort.
How To Cope With Grieving:
The greater the loss you've experienced, the greater the emotional pain and turmoil that you're likely to experience, although it's important to remember that even the most minor situations can lead to feelings of grief and grieving.
Here are some tips for coping with grief and grieving:
Grief is a completely natural response to the loss of something you loved.
When you are grieving, you may want to isolate yourself from the rest of the world. Do not do this. Make sure that you work hard to let people know that you're struggling and how they can help you.
Ask for help - even if it's something as simple as picking up some groceries or bringing over dinner, it's important to ask for help when you need it. Most people want to help someone who is grieving, but may not know how.
Not everyone grieves on the same timetable. What may be "nothing" to someone else can be a major blow to you - so don't expect more of yourself. Allow yourself the time and space to grieve your loss.
Be patient with yourself. Even if you think you "should" be better by now, getting through the grieving process isn't something that can happen simply because you want it to happen.
Do not ignore your emotional pain. While it may feel easier to stifle the pain, push it way down there, this is not a healthy way to handle grief and loss. In order to heal, we must face our losses head-on and cope with the grief.
Don't hide your true feelings by putting on a mask of "strength." You're not protecting other people from your pain in doing so - you're denying it - and that's something you don't need to do.
There are no right or wrong ways to cope with grief and grieving - only the way you feel.
Grief is a very personal experience, which means that it's different for everyone.
The manner in which you grieve may depend on other factors, such as your personality type, coping mechanisms, life experiences, nature of the loss, and your faith.
Not everyone cries while grieving, which does NOT mean that if you don't cry, you're not sad. Everyone copes with grief in their own way.
Lean on other people no matter how much it hurts your pride to admit that you're struggling. Accept all help that's offered and suggest other things you need help with.
Find a support group for the bereaved - often grief can isolate us from others, making us feel very alone. This is why it's vital to find others who are going through similar situations in order to find new ways to cope, feel less alone, and have some shoulders to lean on.
Find a grief counselor or therapist - often, especially in the case with a significant loss, coping with grief can be too much to handle alone. Find a therapist in your area (or have a friend do so for you) in order to talk to someone about your grief and find ways to cope with the loss.
Make sure you're keeping physically healthy. It may seem impossible, but you're going to have to make sure that you work extra hard to eat well, get plenty of rest, and exercise. Grieving and stress can take a huge toll on the body, so it's important to take care of your own health.
Write it out. Or draw it out. Find some way for you to express your feelings in a meaningful manner.
Never, EVER, allow someone else to tell you how you "should" be feeling or what you "should" be doing. Grief is an individual experience, and what works for you may not work for someone else. Don't listen to ANYONE who wants to tell you that you're grieving the wrong way.
Plan out triggers, like holidays and birthdays, and have a plan for how to handle them. Make plans with friends or plant a tree in your loved one's honor. Anything but sitting around your house alone, feeling miserable.
When Your Loved One Is Grieving:
For most people, reaching out to someone who is grieving or knowing what to say to them is a very difficult thing to do. This comes naturally for some, but if we're really honest, it's awkward and scary for most of us.
One of the main reasons it's so awkward is that nobody wants to remind someone that they are sad or that they have lost a loved one. If only one thing can be said in this space, it should be said that "You cannot remind someone who has lost a loved one, that they have lost a loved one. They will never forget. YOU are not going to remind them because they carry it with them all the time."
Never let the discomfort of grief prevent you from reaching out to someone who has lost something they loved - support, no matter what form you can provide - is vital to someone who is grieving. Certainly, you may not know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one - you don't have to have the answers for the person who is grieving. All that the person needs from you is to have someone there alongside them while they grieve. This can help tremendously with healing and emotional pain associated with loss.
How To Help A Loved One Grieve:
There are ways you can help someone who is grieving, some by talking and some by caring actions. Here are some ways to help a loved one grieve a loss.
Listen with compassion and love, and don't hesitate to bring up the name of the person who has died with your loved one. This can help your loved one feel as though the deceased isn't forgotten and that their loss has been acknowledged.
Ask your loved one if they feel like talking about their grief - don't push them to discuss the loss, but let them know that you are there to talk whenever they feel like talking.
Acknowledge all of the feelings that your loved one has. These feelings and emotions may make no sense to you, but everyone grieves differently.
Allow the bereaved talk about their loved one as often as they would like, even if they are repeating themselves. Talking about their deceased loved one helps them remember their loved one.
Don't be afraid to sit in silence with your loved one. Sometimes, just knowing that someone is there and listening is the very best thing that you can do.
Offer to help them with normal, daily tasks like picking up groceries, mowing the lawn, paying bills (especially if they have never been the one to do that).
Take the initiative and help out with daily tasks - many people who are grieving feel intense guilt or shame in asking for help.
Take them to lunch and remember to call. This is especially important weeks and months later when the visitors and cards have come to a halt.
Continue being there for your loved one, months and years later. Support dwindles fairly quickly after a loss.
Pay attention to warning signs for depression or suicide. Make sure the bereaved is taking care of themselves by seeing a doctor, dentist, therapist or other professional. It's easy to neglect yourself when grieving.
Know that a squeeze of a hand or a big hug shows you love them and are thinking of them. You don't always have to have a large conversation, but a small gesture will go a long way.
Share your stories of their loved one, remember them and celebrate them with the bereaved.
Be patient and kind with your loved one. Grief is a process, not an event, which means that even if you're doing the same thing with them over and over, it may be part of their healing process.
Allow the grieving person discuss how their loved one passed away, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
Provide comfort without comparing losses. No two losses are alike, so it's important not to compare the loss of a child to the loss of a pet.
Understand that the pain of the loss may never fully heal.
Be there for the grieving person on trigger dates - anniversaries, birthdays, holidays.
What To Say To Someone Who Is Grieving:
It can be uncomfortable to discuss the loss with someone who is grieving. Here are some things to say to someone who is grieving:
"I'm so very sorry that you lost (name of person)"
"I heard that (name of person) died."
"Tell me how I can help."
"How are you feeling?"
"I'm not sure what to say, but I'm here for you when you need me."
How Not To Help Someone Who Is Grieving:
Sometimes, even the most well-meaning actions can cause a grieving person to feel worse.
Here are some things NOT to do while trying to help someone who is grieving.
Don't invalidate their feelings like telling them not to cry or not to feel guilty. These are normal parts of grieving and should be gone through, not around.
Do not tell a grieving person how to cope with their grief. It's not up to you how they feel, and it's important that the bereaved feels supported, not minimized.
Don't minimize their feelings by saying things like, "Well, it was God's plan." It's offensive, rude, and may hurt, rather than help, a grieving individual.
Don't push the bereaved to discuss his or her grief if he or she is not ready to discuss it. There's a fine line between being nosy and being supportive.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Remember that.
There is no timetable for grief and grieving.
Don't judge the way someone is handling a loss - unless you're walking around in their shoes, you have no way of knowing what their feelings are.
Don't assume that just because someone who is grieving looks "okay," that he or she is.
What NOT To Say To Someone Who Is Grieving:
While some of the platitudes we may have heard are often things called upon by those who are attempting to comfort the bereaved, well-meaning comments can often do more harm than good. Here are some things NOT to say to someone who is grieving:
"It's part of God's plan."
"(Name of loved one) is in a better place now."
"I know just how you feel."
"But look at all you have to be thankful for!"
"It's time to move on with your life."
"You should" or "You will" statements.
Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:
Additional Grief and Grieving Resources:
Journey of Hearts - Ideas for helping others cope with grief.
Solace Tree - Helping adults, teens and children cope with the loss of a loved one.
GriefShare is an international website which helps individuals locate local grief recovery support groups in the US, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.
The Good Grief Center is a comprehensive resource for grief support and referrals.
Children's Grief Education Association has a wonderful site built for families helping children through their grief.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry provides an information sheet on grief in children along with more specific information on sleep problems, pediatric depression, and the loss of a pet.