Grief is messy.
Grief is ugly.
Grief is complex.
Grief is painful.
Grief is life-altering.
Grief is a human experience - we all experience loss in a multiplicity of ways throughout our lives. Some of these losses can be relatively minor, while others can prove to be cataclysmic, disruptive and painful. We are each unique, our relationships are unique, and the way we experience grief is unique. To that end, what do we mean when we speak about grief? Here are a couple of thoughts that I found helpful:
"Grief is the natural and normal reaction to loss of any kind.”
Sadly, much of what we have learned about grief is not normal, natural or helpful for that matter. But what I want to draw your attention to are the words natural and normal. Grief is not an illness or a weakness; rather it is the way that human beings are wired to process the emotions and pain of loss. These emotions are not wrong but the natural and normal response to the losses we experience.
“Grief is conflicting feelings caused by a change or an end in a familiar pattern of behavior”
I want to draw your attention to the grief resulting from a change or an end of a familiar pattern. A person who has given themselves to a career and now enters retirement might experience grief (and relief) from this significant change in their life. The same is true for those who find themselves divorced and starting the next phase of their life.
Sometimes, people who are diagnosed with an illness that forces a radical shift in lifestyle - employment, their home, independence will also experience grief because the disease has impacted their pattern of life.
“Grief is emotional, not intellectual”
The events and circumstances may be factual but grief is a heart issue, and to the person experiencing loss, it is an emotional experience. Grief is not something that is cured with propositional statements of fact. Many have experienced being able to understand a situation cognitively but were still acutely aware of the emotional pain they experienced. The reason for this is grief is experienced in a different place in the brain. It is essential that we understand that it is not just a matter of knowing the right information, as much as it is right actions that address the area of the brain that is struggling. So when we say it is a heart issue, what we are talking about the area of the brain that experiences the emotions related to grief.
“Grief is individual, and relates directly to the uniqueness of human relationships"
No two relationships are the same and as such, grief is unique. While we might have experienced similar situations, this doesn't mean we experience them in the same way as another. We need to resist stereotyping grievers or the kind of loss. Likewise, we need to resist the temptation to compare one type of loss over another as this diminishes the griever's dignity - because all grief is unique.
- Grief is the natural and normal response to loss
- Grief is the conflicting emotions resulting from a change in the daily pattern of life.
- Grief is emotional
- Grief is unique
Grief is indeed a part of what it is to be human. It is so imperative that we learn healthy ways to deal with it, in such a way that we can experience healing and freedom to engage life to the fullest.
The definitions presented can be found in:
The Grief Recovery Handbook, 20th Anniversary Expanded Edition: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses including Health, Career, and Faith Paperback – January 10, 2017 - John James & Russell Friedman