What is Grief?
Grief can be difficult to define because in terms, grief is never the same for any individual, thus it has no one solid definition (Zisook & Shear, 2009). It can be important to not label grief due to us not knowing what an individual may be going through. Some may see grief as being the act of mourning the loss of someone or something, in other ways, some can see it as the act of being forced to let go, sometimes without warning. An individual can grieve for a variety of reasons such as the loss of a loved one, the closing of a relationship, the ending of a career, and even the act of moving whether it be to a new town or a new state.
The Grief Cycle
The process of grieving is broken down into five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargainining, Depression, and Acceptance (Weng, 2013). The stages of grief are a common topic but have been seen to be misinterpreted as each stage is not linear, meaning that individuals may experience each stage differently. Some may experience one stage before others and some may not experience a stage as long as others.
When experiencing grief, it is easy and comfortable to push away and pretend that it never happened. It is common for one to want to deny the loss or run back to something that is no longer there. Although denial is a prominent stage as one denies events, feelings, thoughts, or emotions, they will be emotionally heightened. Through the stage of denial, one may be looking back on past memories and denying that the individual is gone as they hold onto the memories. Denial can be seen as a form of survival in that the individual may have to continue on with their life such as a mother who lost her husband has to continue taking care of her children and feels she must put a mask on to continue through life, in which the mask is the denial. *
No one wants to experience loss; however, when an individual loses someone or something they may begin to experience strengthened emotions of rage and may be directed toward the question of why, and this why may be pointed at certain individuals as an act of displacement. It is common for anger to be seen as an emotion on the outer layer whereas other emotions of sadness, pain, guilt, and sorrow may be on the inner layer, but the individual is not ready for those emotions to be seen. For some anger may be the easiest emotion to express because individuals may feel that they can not express their true feelings of sadness or fear. Some see anger as a form of strength and in this, they feel they must show the world they are strong even while they are grieving. **
After losing a loved one it is common for an individual to feel that things are out of control or that they have no real reign on what is happening. Through this stage, the pain seems so real that one may be looking toward “what if” or “if only” statements in order to allow it to make more sense in their mind. In this, it is common for the individual to be at a point where they feel they will do anything or make any sacrifice in order to have the individual's back. This can be seen in various different ways and through different lenses depending on the individual’s culture, religion, and lifestyle. This stage can be seen as false hope to some, in that one is trying to provide themselves light in a dark time. The bargaining stage can be seen to be the most confusing and painful stage as one can feel all emotions through every stage all at once, as they are crying out for helping, feeling lost and alone. ***
This is a stage in which emotions are commonly seen as a grief response. Some research has shown that in a way one experiences this stage in four different ways through each cycle. This may feel like a silent stage where it is common for the individual to feel that they have nothing else to say and desire to experience this stage on their own; however, it is important to seek community and support through this stage as the heaviness of emotions can weigh one down. This a stage where one may feel stuck, in which it can be beneficial to reach out to a mental health professional for guidance and support. *
The Acceptance stage has been seen as one that is hard to get a hold of because it can feel as if you are saying it is okay or you are okay with the loss. This stage can be a powerful healing stage if one is given the proper tools and guidance to approach it with. We may never like the new way of life or be okay with never seeing someone again, but it is important for us to accept the loss. In this stage, many will rewrite their story or start over in a sense. They have accepted that the loss is real and the individual may never be back in person but that it is okay to continue on and even to start fresh as one rewrites their story. This has been seen through individuals moving away, completing a task they have always wanted to, writing a book, or maybe going back to school. Acceptance is an immense form of strength as it takes strength to accept the new reality. ****
Things to Keep in Mind
As much as individuals will experience the different stages of grief, there is no one correct order that the stages are experienced. It is important to remember that the stages are not linear and you will experience them as they come through your grief journey (Walsh & McGolrick, 2013). Some may experience acceptance right at the start of the grieving, in that they feel they must accept in order to complete paperwork and continue on with everyday life for those around them and then revert back to acceptance later on in their grieving journey as the pain has begun to impact them in different ways. We want to normalize the process of someone moving through the stages and experiencing them in different ways than others around them. No one grief journey looks the same as another and that is what makes the grief cycle beautiful because it is yours.
How to Help Someone Who is Grieving
How we can best support someone who is grieving can be one of the most challenging questions because as humans we want to do enough for them but not too much. It is important to remember that everyone is going to want different forms of support as they grieve. The best thing you can do to help a grieving friend or loved one is to be present and listen. Grief is a long journey and it can be difficult for one to ask for help as they grieve, but if they see you are present and supportive, they will be more inclined to lean on you when the time is right. Society has told individuals that even when in pain from grief they must be strong, for you to provide them with support where they can see that they do not need to be strong is one of the most healing gifts one can give. *****
When to Seek Help
Grief is a challenging time but it is important for us as individuals who may experience grief of our own or will support those who are grieving to see that the grief cycle is not linear and that each individual’s grief journey will look different. Some signs that someone may need professional help are signs of anxiety increasing or signs of depression beginning to arise (which is impacting their everyday functioning). If you, a loved one, or a friend is grieving and would benefit from talking to a mental health professional, please call Heritage Counseling at 214-363-2345.
Walsh, F., and McGolrick, M. Bereavemen: A family life cycle perspective (2013). 4 (1), 20-27.
Weng Marc Lim. Journal of Social Sciences. (2013). 9(1) 11-13, doi 10.3844/jsssp.2013.11.13.
Zisook S, Shear K. Grief, and bereavement: what psychiatrists need to know. World Psychiatry. 2009 Jun;8(2):67-74. doi: 10.1002/j.2051-5545.2009.tb00217.x. PMID: 19516922; PMCID: PMC2691160.