angel in a cemetery

What is grief and why do we grieve?

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“Grief is love’s unwillingness to let go”

Most people’s first experience of grief is when they are young and maybe lose a pet or a grandparent, which is why it is most commonly attached to losing someone close to us. However, we can also experience grief, maybe not so intently when we lose something important to us.  It could be the loss of a relationship or a job, having to move to a new area where you don’t know anyone, or it can even occur if you are diagnosed with a chronic illness.

Grief is simply a normal reaction to loss and is the emotional pain we experience. In the last few months, especially, more people than usual have sadly experienced grief, sometimes way before they should.

That said, there is no right way to grieve. Likewise, there is no time limit. Grief will affect every one of us differently.

What’s the difference between grief, bereavement and mourning?

The simple way to explain it is that one is a state of being, one is a feeling, and the other is an expression.

None the wiser?

Grief, as I mentioned earlier, is the emotional pain you feel when you experience that loss.

Bereavement is a state of being because you have experienced a loss. You are bereaved. You have lost someone or something.

Mourning is the outward expression of that loss. Many cultures have mourning rituals which help people make sense of the loss and provide a structure to help them ‘get through it’ including how to:

  • Prepare for the death of a loved one
  • Understand it
  • Remember the person who died
  • Arrange the funeral
  • Handle the remain

Mourning rituals can also determine how long the mourning period is – this is not to be confused with the grieving process which is something different

What is the grieving process?

There are thought to be five stages to the grieving process. These were first identified in the book ‘On Death and Dying’ by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, MD, and apply not only to how we mourn those we’ve lost, but also how we come to terms with our own death.

The five stages are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Doing my research for this article, I found several mentions of seven stages of grief that included disbelief and guilt, but the consensus seems to be five.

  • Denial

Denial is a usual, and immediate, defence mechanism. Thinking ‘that cannot be true’ or ‘this is not happening’ helps us temporarily numb our emotions.

  • Anger

When denial fades, reality sets in, and that’s when the pain hits. And sometimes we are just not ready.

Feelings of frustration and helplessness can be expressed as anger, directed towards anyone and everyone, including sometimes, the person who died.

  • Bargaining

‘If’ and ‘only’ are two very simple words. But like ‘what’ and ‘if’ when put together they “have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life” (Letters to Juliet, 2010).

During the bargaining stage of grief, we ruminate over what we could have done better or should have done.

Bargaining is a way of trying to wrest back control.

  • Depression

As you begin to process and understand the loss and how it may affect your life, you may feel sad, overwhelmed, and sometimes lonely.

  • Acceptance

When you begin to accept the reality of the loss, it doesn’t mean you’re happy, it just means you have reached a place of calm acceptance. Somewhere you feel able to begin moving forward with your life instead of being in limbo.

For some people, unfortunately, this stage is never reached. If the death was sudden or unexpected, they may never move past denial and anger.

Some people may:
  • Not experience all five stages of grief
  • Experience all stages, but not necessarily in the same order as written above
  • Express their emotions, while others may keep their feelings to themselves.
  • Weep and wail, and others will appear outwardly calm and collected.

As I’ve said before though, grief will affect everyone differently, and no one should be judged by how they grieve.

Are grief support groups helpful?

Grieving is something we have to do on our own, but sometimes it’s nice to connect with others who have been or are going through the same thing and understand our sorrow.

Grief support groups can act as a safe haven, where you can talk through your feelings and ask questions without feeling judged.

And as a collective, the group can support and comfort each other.

Where can I find a grief support group?

The main two sources for information about support groups are:

  • Churches – even though you may not be religious, many churches have bereavement groups
  • Hospitals & Hospices

If you know anyone else who has gone through loss, then maybe they might know of one.

If all else fails, Google!

 

We grieve because we’ve loved, and we grieve for ourselves and the loss we feel.

But grieve we must as it is a natural part of the grieving process.

I’d like to end with Mary Elizabeth Fry’s ‘Do not stand at my grave and weep’, which is a famous bereavement poem:

 

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glint on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush,

I am the swift, uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there, I do not sleep.

(Do not stand at my grave and cry.

I am not there, I did not die!)

Until next time darlings.

Claire

Xx

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