Understanding Grief

Grief is the natural response to a loss. The intensity and length of the grief depends upon the relationship and value that is placed on the person that was lost. Each of us possess a unique combination of past experiences, personality, style, ways of coping with stress, and our acceptance of our circumstances.

On many levels, it is these unique personal experiences, including the understanding of life and death, along with religious or spiritual beliefs that are blended together with the type of relationship to the departed that help inform and guide during the grieving process.

Handling Grief is Unique

While we all accept uniqueness in the physical world, it is important that we also understand uniqueness in the spiritual and emotional realms. Jinny Tesik, with the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, says that it is especially needed in understanding the grieving process. She says the way we grieve is as unique as our fingerprints. “No two people will ever grieve the same way, with the same intensity or for the same duration.”

Handling Grief Takes Time

Molly Fumia, in a sensitive book titled Safe Passages, describes grief as a journey; often a treacherous one, many times without defined direction. “The experience of grieving cannot be ordered or categorized, hurried or controlled, pushed aside or ignored indefinitely.”

While everyone processes grief differently, the tendency is to think that after a certain amount of time, the sadness will cease. That couldn’t be any further from the truth. Michele Neff Hernandez, founding President of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, a non-profit organization providing peer-support to people who have lost loved ones, noted that her personality wanted to put an end-date on her grieving process.

Hernandez writes, “The brutal nature of grief forced me to live one day at a time. As a person who tends to jump ahead to the next thing, the unpredictability of grief made living outside the moment impossible. No other life experience has so firmly placed me in the present.”

Handling Grief is a Process

While grieving is as unique as a fingerprint, many psychiatrists and counselors recognize that there are certain threads present in the grieving process for most individuals. The concept of the stages of grief was popularized by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1926 – 2004), a Swiss American psychiatrist. She was a pioneer in the study of death and was the author of the best-selling book, On Death and Dying, in which she first promoted her theory of five stages of grief.

Handling Grief is Stressful

Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe assembled a list of life events and the amount of stress associated with the event. The list, which included being fired from a job, imprisonment, pregnancy and divorce, saw the death of a spouse as the single most stressful event that we experience. Death of a close family member also was in the top five on the list.

The grieving process is both mentally and physically difficult. When we understand how we grieve, we can begin to form strategies for how to cope with that grief.  In many instances grief tests the limits of emotions generating an incredible amount of stress. The more you understand about grief and its effects, the more equipped you will be to cope with loss.