Grief is an integral part of life and living. Everyone grieves, although not everyone mourns. That is, not everyone goes public with their grief. They have been taught to keep it to themselves because it is much too personal.
Consequently, silent grief tends to perpetuate many myths and falsehoods that already exist. Here are 10 things you should know about grief that will cut through some of the cultural misrepresentations that often cause unnecessary suffering.
1. Grief is the normal human response to the loss of a person, object, or ideal. The emphasis here is on normal. In this day and age there are still many who believe grief is a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a needed process leading to acceptance of what has occurred. If you choose to love, you automatically choose to grieve.
2. Everybody grieves. No one is immune from the grief response. If there is an emotional investment in an object of loss or the person who died, the survivor will grieve. And, there will be a change in that person’s identity because a part of the person has died. Each emotional relationship is different and is based on the individual characteristics of the survivor, the person who died, and the way they interacted.
3. People do not always become depressed or experience guilt or anger when grieving. Although it is common to experience either or all of these emotions, some individuals do not experience any of them. This is do to their belief system, the nature of the relationship with their loved one, and the type of death that took place.
4. We grieve for many things other than the death of a loved one. Grief can occur wherever emotional investment is present. Divorce, incarceration, loss of or moving from a home, loss of a pet, a friend who moves away, or the loss of any significant object are all causes for grief for some.
5. There are as many grieving styles as there are lifestyles. Grieving is highly individual. Thus the lack of crying or other display of emotion is not an indicator of the pain a person may be experiencing. There are many gender differences in grieving. We need to be aware that we are all influenced by our adult grief models early in life and grieve in our own ways. Sometimes what we learn about grief from adults increases suffering and inhibits the normal grief process.
6. Whenever we grieve a major loss, there are secondary losses that must be recognized and grieved. Secondary or associated losses accompany all major losses. While death brings the loss of the physical presence of the loved one, it can also bring loss of financial stability, a home or apartment, an automobile, dreams of the future with the loved one, or a source of wisdom, companionship, or *** expression. Each of these losses needs to be recognized and grieved. Some secondary losses occur months or years later.
7. Many people who are grieving have an Extraordinary Experience (EE). Extraordinary Experiences are a variety of spontaneous events that occur in which the bereaved person is convinced he/she has received a sign or a message from the deceased loved one. They range from visitation dreams, visions, or hearing the loved one to sensing the presence, feeling a touch, or experiencing an unusual synchronicity. Do not deny the person the comfort from these events.
8. Grief does revisit. It is not uncommon for grief to resurface months or even years later with much intensity. A very sad memory may be recalled, stimulated by a particular experience not directly connected to the loved one. Or an anniversary, birthday, or graduation may occasion sadness and the return of grief. Again, this is normal and the emotional response should be expected and allowed to play out.
9. Grief is not time bound. After a month or two many people expect the mourner to move on and get over the loss. This is highly unrealistic in most instances. Since grief is a highly individual process, it follows that the length of time to do one’s grief work will vary. For one person it may take months. For another it may take years. If you are grieving do not be rushed in doing the work of grief.
10. Grief is one of love’s natural consequences. When you love, as most people do, grief is inevitable when the object of your love is no longer there. However, love never dies, as we will always have a relationship with the person who died, and that relationship can be nurtured through memorializations, new traditions, and remembrances at family celebrations.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, the popular Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His free monthly ezine website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com.