Grief is not a disorder

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“Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.”

Dr Earl A. Grollman

what is grief

What is grief?

Grief has been described as the price we pay for love. Grief can also be described as the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. In itself, grief is neither a pathological condition nor a personality disorder.

The definition is still quite vague, probably because grief affects people uniquely; no two losses are ever the same. There are some characteristics of grief that most people experience, which has led academics to describe grieving as a process.

What is the grieving process?

A popular model used to describe the grieving process is said to consist of five “stages”. These are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Denial

When we receive bad news, such as being informed of bereavement, the shock can be overwhelming. Denial is a natural reaction to stop the emotional pain of the loss from overwhelming us. Experiencing denial is a way for the individual to allow more time to adjust to their new reality.

An example of denial is a pet owner that keeps expecting to see their departed pet enter the room.

Anger

It is common to experience feelings of anger after a bereavement. Adjusting to the new reality can cause extreme emotional discomfort. It is common for people to “lash out” and blame those around them or to blame a higher power.

Bargaining

Grief can be so overwhelming that you are willing to do almost anything to lessen the emotional pain. Owners that have a pet suffering a terminal illness may find themselves making promises or bargains.

These promises may include:

  • I’ll never be angry with him again if you heal him.
  • I promise to be a better person if you allow her to live.

After a bereavement, you may find yourself examining your last interactions with your departed pet and wishing you had approached these situations differently. It’s common for bereaved people to believe if they had done something else, then they could have affected the outcome. This can lead to feelings of guilt. Please remember that it is highly unlikely that there is any truth to these feelings.

Depression

It’s important to note that grief isn’t the same as clinical depression and shouldn’t be seen as a mental health illness or disorder. For the majority of us, the feelings of depression after a bereavement will pass.

During this stage, people may feel groggy, sluggish and confused.

Acceptance

Finally, you find yourself accepting your new reality. It doesn’t mean you have finished grieving or moved past your loss. Reminiscing on your loved one is less painful.

An example of acceptance: “I was blessed to have shared my life with him.”

Is there a grieving process?

The grieving process is a misnomer. Grief is messy and unpredictable. There isn’t a linear process. We don’t move from one stage to another in an orderly fashion. You may feel fine for a few days or even weeks and then something as simple as finding an old toy or remembering an anniversary will trigger acute feelings of loss. It can feel as if you are back at the beginning and that no time has passed since the bereavement.

What does grief feel like?

physical symptoms of pet loss

This is nearly impossible to describe as the mix of emotions is unique to each loss. You can expect anger, confusion, fear, loneliness, guilt and sadness. What may come unexpectedly are the feelings of relief, particularly after a long illness.

What often is a surprise are the physical symptoms that accompany grief. The feelings of stress can cause you to tense your muscles leading to aches and pains throughout your body. Other physical manifestations of grief can include:

  • Digestive problems
  • Feelings of lethargy
  • Tightness in your chest or throat
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Oversensitivity to light and noise

How long does grief last?

how long does grief last?

There isn’t a set timescale for grief. The first year is a year full of firsts; the first birthday, first Christmas, first holiday without your loved one. Each first has the potential to trigger strong feelings of grief and can you leaving feeling as though you’re never going to feel better.

If you are experiencing debilitating feelings of loss after 8 months you may want to seek grief counselling from specialist bereavement services.

2 responses to “Grief is not a disorder”

  1. Kathleen+James says:

    I’ve experienced grief so many times, all relating to family members who’ve died.
    When Tara went over the Rainbow Bridge in February, I was completely unprepared for how the grief would affect me. Although she was a member of the family and had been for nearly 16 years, it was a completely different kind of grief.
    I suffer from various mental health issues so her death totally compounded my issues. It wasn’t helped by someone saying “it’s been five weeks, you should be over it by now.” Whether it’s five days, weeks or months is immaterial; everyone deals with grief differently and at different rates.
    I’ll always miss my family members; I’ll miss Tara, and I’ll miss her brother after he’s gone, but a part of them lives on in your heart and they never really go.

    • Jon Baily says:

      Good afternoon Kathleen & James, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences on losing Tara. I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts on how they live on in your heart. That’s the truth about love – the more you give the more you can receive and there’s always room for more.

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