Grief is a common human experience that extends beyond cultural and socioeconomic background. It is a complex combination of emotions, thoughts, and reactions that one encounters in response to loss. Grief may be experienced through physical, psychological, or even unexpected reactions. There is no singular, conventional response to loss; everyone grieves differently. Grief is a journey that each person has to undertake on their unique path.
Are all losses the same?
Typically, when we hear the terms "grief and loss," we conjure up images of death. But there are a lot of other losses we face in life besides losing loved ones to death. This may be surprising, but losing a loved one due to the end of a relationship may be comparable to experiencing that loved one’s death. Another example of a non-death loss is loss of employment which is also a very difficult event, particularly if it is forced onto a person due to age or unforeseen circumstances. An individual may experience a wave of emotional responses such as anger, frustration, anxiety, disbelief, hopelessness, etc. A person may mourn the future, their plans and goals, financial stability, identity, confidence, and possibly their independence.
This is an example of a primary or major loss that may also result in a secondary loss, which should not be underestimated. Other examples of secondary losses include security, self-worth, trust, social connection, sexual desire, and faith. Not all losses are the same. Some losses can change your perspective, values, morals, and perhaps your identity. There are losses that come with wisdom, growth, and resilience. This journey is unique and individualized because the outcome and the path are determined by a person’s personality traits and other individualistic factors such as grieving style, cultural and social context, nature of the relationship with the lost one or object, religious or spiritual beliefs, etc.
BEYOND the Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the concept of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While these stages provide a framework to understand grief, individuals may not experience the stages in order. More importantly, Kübler-Ross’s model does not address the physical, psychological, or availability of social support. More current frameworks consider meaning reconstruction and adjustment to a new environment to both be central to the grief work, which allows for a holistic transformational and healing experience.
Waves of Emotions
It's important to give yourself permission to express your feelings when you're grieving. Sit with and attend to your emotions! Emotional dysregulation and avoidance are examples of two issues that might arise from suppressing emotions, which can slow down the healing process. Acknowledging and expressing feelings such as shock, sadness, anger, guilt, loneliness, or even relief is crucial for the healing process. In order to do this, you can join a grief support group, speak with friends, family, or a professional therapist, or use creative outlets like reflective writing, painting, or music. If you are a religious person, you may find religious resources to cope with grief or reach out to a religious leader to help contextualize your loss within your faith.
Do We Forget or Grow?
Time is said to heal a lot of wounds, but it's essential to recognize that grief doesn't have a set timeline. According to Tonkin’s model of grief, people find ways to grow around grief, which means we do not have to forget the loss or pretend it didn’t occur in order to heal. Rather, we learn to live with it and grow around it. Growth may take different forms like meaning-making of the loss, appreciation of life and relationships with others, exploring new possibilities, reflecting on personal strengths, or spiritual change. Remember, grief is still there, but you are expanding around it and living with it, NOT in it.
Keep in mind that grief is a deeply personal and dynamic process. It may be lengthy or brief, linear or wavey, and experienced in emotions, cognitions, or behaviours. Regardless of your path, the grief process can lead to personal growth and resilience and there is no set timetable for when you should begin to feel better. Be patient with yourself and approach each day as it comes. Remember to take care of yourself and give yourself permission to process the emotions associated with your grief.
If you have experienced a loss and would like support with processing and grieving, I would be happy to connect with you.
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