“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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.