What is Grief?
Updated: May 7, 2020
What is grief? Most of us have experienced grief but can be challenged to define it or recognize how to face it in ourselves and others.
Grief by definition is the reaction to loss. A reaction could be emotional, physical, behavioural, cognitive, social or spiritual. It’s important to note that a loss could include death of a person or pet, an identity, house, job, relationship etc.
Bereavement is similar to grief except that it is specifically the reaction of individuals experiencing a death-related loss. This word isn’t often used in everyday conversation but does differentiate its self from a broad term such as grief.
Mourning is the process of coping with these grief reactions and where one learns how to live with the loss.
A number of other words get used when someone is talking about grief which include, secondary losses, anticipated losses, disenfranchised losses, and ambiguous and non-finite losses. These can all have an effect on mourning and on the intensity of grief.
A loss is a disconnection, a change in usual and familiar patterns of behaviour.
This disconnection from our attachments affects us mentally, spiritually, and biologically. It takes significant energy to readjust to a life without the attachment and find balance in our bodies and minds. Emotions come and go like waves varying in intensity and in unpredictable times. It’s unknown territory, it can be painful, it’s new, and often scary.
The grief “work” could be described as a journey of growth where we adjust to life without the physical presence of loved attachments. This can be done by integrating the changes. We have to integrate a lot on how we observe, understand, and then communicate our life story to others and ourselves.
Grieving can be done by leaning into the emotion and suffering to ensure that integration can occur and a new narrative written. Many have found art to be a useful experience and tool to explore the new unknown that stretches our creativity to open new ways of perceiving the world. Therapy can be a wonderful, safe, transitional space to explore this unknown.
This grief process of re-writing our narrative has been illustrated through a number of different theories, all with the goal of adjusting and coping with the loss or change. The integration of this new narrative can be a slow process depending on the loss and how dysregulated a person becomes. Grief theories offer a pattern to navigate this path of growth but are largely individualistic. These theories can be a helpful starting point that helps us make sense of the chaos in gradual steps.