What is Grief?

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." ~ Matthew 5:4 (NIV)

We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination. 
— ~ C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

The word ‘grief’ is derived from a Latin verb meaning “to burden”. Grief is defined as intense emotional suffering caused by loss, disaster, misfortune; acute sorry; deep sadness. Mourning is the expression of grief.

Throughout our journey in life, we experience many different situations that bring about grief: the loss of life, loss of employment, loss of safety/security, loss of treasured possessions, loss of independence, loss of relationship(s) (divorce or a move). Grief is a set of feelings that arise after a significant separation or loss. Mourning is a set of rituals and/or behaviors demonstrated when grief is experienced.

How does grief affect someone?

The grief process can be simplified into three stages:

Impact Stage 

The experience of grief emotions, such as, shock and disbelief at the news of their loss.

- “No, this isn’t happening!” or “This is a dream, it’s not real!”

- Denial provides a temporary escape so that a person can build inner strength to cope

- Cultural expressions of grief vary greatly

- Expressed emotions may be anxiety producing for others but allows emotions to be openly expressed.

Recoil Stage 

Shock and denial give way to reality and a struggle to make emotional adjustments begin.

- Emotional adjustments can be seen

- One begins to come to grips with their loss

- A search for peace and contentment begins

- Begin to share full range of intense feelings such as loneliness, sadness, anger, guilt, etc.

Recovery Stage

Adapting to a new normal in life.

- It could take an extended period of time to reach this stage

- New energy returns

- A sense of future returns

- The word "Hope" re-enters one's vocabulary and thoughts

Our grief lives with us long as we live...by the very act of weaving our losses into that tapestry, we ensure that our losses are part of our wholeness.
— ~ Deborah Morris Coryell, Healing Through the Shadow of Loss

The same feelings that often make people question if they are going “crazy,” are actually a sane response to grief. Grief oftentimes is expressed by:

  • Distorted thinking patters, “crazy” and/or irrational thoughts, fears
  • Feelings of despair and hopelessness
  • Increased irritability
  • May want to talk a lot or not at all
  • Obsessive focus on the loved one or whatever was lost
  • Increase or decrease of appetite and/or sexual desire
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Dreams in which the deceased seems to visit the griever
  • Shattered beliefs about life, the world and even God

We grieve because we are losing someone or something that was part of our lives, our story, our identity. Grief is a natural part of life. Grief becomes unnatural when we choose to disregard those feelings, oftentimes finding other ways to numb those emotions. One thing I have realized is that we all have to deal with our grief at some point. The sooner you allow yourself to begin the healing process, the sooner you will be able to move into the recovery stage where you begin to figure out what life in your new reality will look like.