Grief is a topic that requires a whole series, and then another series. Grief cannot be summed up in a few shorts paragraphs, and cannot be “cured” with three simple steps. This is a topic that has long sat in my queue of blogs- I think I kept putting it off because it is so gigantic. Rather than let perfectionism or avoidance get the best of me, I am going to start! This will be a topic that I revisit in future posts; for today, I am going to do a round up of important things to keep in mind related to grief.
1. Grief is individual
Grief is experienced differently for every single person. Grief can be experienced differently by the same person in different circumstances. It is so important to avoid comparison when it comes to grief- there is no one right was to grieve.
People also grieve for different things. What evokes grief within you may not evoke grief in your friend, your neighbor, your sister, and that is okay.
You do not need to look outside of yourself for a tutorial on how to grieve correctly. You do not need to place judgment on others when they do not appear to grieve in the way that you do. If you are feeling stuck or lost in grief, a therapist or other supportive person can help you; they are not telling you how to grieve, but rather supporting you in discovering your own way.
2. Grief is not linear
Most of you have likely been exposed to the stages of grief made popular with the Kübler-Ross Model. The model was inspired by Kübler-Ross’ work with termilly ill patients, but has come to be used to describe grief more generally. However, the model was not meant to be interpreted as a step by step approach. When you are grieving, you might feel like your emotions and experience is all over the place- this is normal! Grief is an experience that can take you forward, backward, and in a circle. Your grieving process is not likely to look like a checklist.
3. Grief is layered
There are many emotions that are a part of the grieving process; again, these might be different depending on who is grieving and what is being grieved. Grief is not simply a synonym for sadness. Give yourself permission to experience and explore each of the emotions that come up during the grieving process, even if you confused by the emotion.
Grief is also layered in that it may be re-experienced or need to be revisited during different life or developmental stages. As you grow and age and change, they way in which you experience or interpret grief may change. It is normal to feel as though you need to revisit past losses when you reach new life stages.
4. Grief can exist with other (joyous) emotions
There will be times during the grieving process when you really believe that it will be impossible to ever feel joy again; and then, one day (maybe sooner than you thought, maybe later than you thought), there you are. A joyous moment has caught you off guard and you realize that your heart is happy. This is not an instance to shame yourself for abandoning your grief and daring to feel joy in spite of loss; we are complex beings and, as hard as it might be to understand, grief and joy can exist hand in hand. Allow yourself permission to savor those moments of joy, excitement, anticipation, happiness; grief can be dark and uncertain, and these moments can give you a much needed reminder the beauty that continues to exist.
5. Grief is not cured
I believe that many who have grieved can attest to the experience that you do not get to a point at which the grief has disappeared; you do not reach a time when the loss is no longer felt, or when your heart no longer aches at the reminder of the loss. Grief and loss are integrated into your person, your identity. Grief is not conquered, it is integrated. Grief does not have to define you or be your entire identify; allow yourself to integrate this loss and experience so that grief become part of you and defines part of your experience, but is not who you are.
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Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Valencia, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.