Simply put, grief is the reaction that people have to some type of loss. Most often, we think of grief as mourning, the deep sadness that we experience when someone that we care about dies. There are a number of emotional, physical, and psychological dimensions to grief, and not everyone responds to loss in the same way. It’s important to note that there is no one right way to grieve a loss, and no set time period in which a person should “get over” their grief.
What Does Grief Mean?
Grief is a reaction to loss, and it’s a normal and natural part of the healing process. Nearly everyone experiences grief in some way, even if they don’t react the way that one might expect. Many people experience extreme sadness and cry a lot, while others might feel anger, regret, frustration, or anxiety. Still others simply feel numb and don’t know how to react. All of these responses are common, and people often feel several different ways at once, which can be confusing. All of these reactions are ways of processing and dealing with the loss, allowing us to move on from the past and invest our energy in the future.
It’s important to remember that grief is not a way of forgetting the past, nor does it mean that the person we lost is no longer important to us. It is a way of honoring our loved one, but moving forward with our lives. Grief is also not depression; while great sadness often accompanies grief, serious depression is a psychological condition that needs professional help.
How We Express Grief
Different people express their grief in different ways, but there are a number of common reactions:
- Crying and deep sadness
- Anger or frustration
- Feelings of guilt and remorse
- Withdrawal and the desire to be alone
- The need to be near loved ones
- Lack of energy and trouble concentrating
- Numbness or apathy
- Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
- Increased sensitivity to noises
Many people feel overwhelmed with emotion after a loss, and may feel like they are going crazy. Often we feel contradictory feelings – for example, we might feel deeply sad after a loved one dies, but also relief that their suffering has ended, and guilt over this relief. We may feel numb at our loss, and angry at ourselves because we think we should be reacting differently.
No matter how you express your grief, try to recognize that these feelings are temporary and all are simply different ways of processing the loss. Don’t judge yourself or others too harshly for their reactions, and give yourself time to move through your emotions. It’s also best not to make abrupt decisions right after a loss; take some time to consider your actions before making choices that you might regret later.
Common Ways of Dealing with Grief
After you experience a loss, there are a number of ways that you can process your grief and start to move on with your life. There is no time limit on grief or schedule that you should follow to “get over it.” We all experience loss differently, and you should take the time that you need to deal with the experience.
Many people find that memorializing the deceased helps them deal with their grief. It’s often said that funerals are for the living, and these ceremonies can be an effective way of allowing friends and families to express their grief publicly, surrounded by others who are also experiencing loss. A funeral, wake, memorial service, or other gathering is a social expression of grief that people often find brings a sense of closure. Choosing to not attend a funeral or memorial may leave family members feeling like there is unfinished business.
You may also find healing by helping others. Some people, when they suffer a loss, feel the need to reach out to those who are also grieving to share and lessen some of the pain. Related to this, if your loved one died after an illness or accident, you may find healing in raising money to help others suffering in similar situations. Many people find that this gives meaning to their loss and helps them feel like they are taking a positive action in response.
Others deal with grief through religion or spiritual pursuits. The idea that we have a place in the universe and that there is something waiting for us after this life can be very comforting. Devoting more time to spiritual or philosophical purposes can add meaning to our lives and help us to recognize the role that loss plays in our existence.
There are also unhealthy ways of dealing with grief, including overeating, abusing drugs or alcohol, lashing out at others, and completely cutting ourselves off from our lives for an extended period of time. These reactions are often dangerous to ourselves and others, and they don’t help us process our grief. If you’re struggling to deal with your emotions or feel like you don’t know how to move forward, talk to a counselor, join a support group, or seek out spiritual support. It’s OK to need help and to ask for it.
Five Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed the five stages of grief – or, more accurately, the five stages experienced by those who are dying – in her 1969 book, “On Death and Dying.” While there is some question about how common these stages actually are, many people recognize their reactions to grief in each:
People who are experiencing grief may pass through some, all, or none of these stages, and there is no requirement that you should experience all of these stages. These are common experiences for people who are dying and those who are grieving a death, however, and you may find some peace in knowing that others have experienced similar reactions.
Types of Grief
While many people experience grief that is relatively straightforward, there are several defined types of grief that can one may experience. These types of grief often do not occur at the time of the loss, but may be experienced before or after the actual experience.
Complicated grief, also called prolonged grief disorder or persistent complex bereavement disorder, is a psychological condition in which an individual becomes incapacitated by their grief and unable to function in normal life. This type of grief is often characterized by intense feelings of loneliness or emptiness, continually thinking about the person who died, the inability to accept that the death has occurred, difficult trusting or caring about others, and being unable to participate in one’s life. It’s important to note that, while anyone who is grieving may experience some or all of these reactions, complicated grief is typically much more profound and lasts for an extended period of time – often several months.
Profound grief that lasts for an extended period of time needs professional treatment. Some people find that antidepressant medications may help treat complicated grief, but these drugs are not helpful for all sufferers. Specific types of psychological counseling can be used to treat this disorder, including techniques similar to those used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
When grief is not acknowledged by society or the people around you, that is called disenfranchised grief. It can be overwhelming to experience a loss and have the people in your life either not recognize it or tell you that it’s not important. Dealing with grief alone can be challenging, and no one has the right to tell you that your grief isn’t real or that you should “get over it.”
It’s OK to allow yourself to feel your grief, no matter what your loss. Try not to let other people’s judgement determine what you should or should not feel. If you’re experiencing grief that others cannot or do not acknowledge, you may want to seek out a counselor or support group where you can share your experiences.
Anticipatory grief occurs when we know a loss is coming, and we start the grieving process even before it happens. If you know that a loved one is going to die, for example, you may start to grieve the loss while the person is still alive. Some people who experience anticipatory grief may find themselves dealing with overwhelming sadness and feel like they need to put their lives on hold until the death occurs. They may also feel anger and frustration with the situation, especially when they cannot do anything to prevent the anticipated death.
In some ways, anticipatory grief can open up healthy ways of dealing with loss. When we know that someone who we love is going to die, it can give us the chance to mend a broken relationship, express our love, and say goodbye. We may have the opportunity to share happy experiences in those last days. Many people seek out support groups for caregivers and family members of those who are dying where they can be honest about their feelings.
Even years after a loss, you may experience a resurgence of grief around the anniversary of the death, a wedding anniversary, a holiday, or another important date. Anniversary reactions are not uncommon, and they can last for days (or longer). You may encounter a sudden reminder of your loss, even when there is no anniversary to remember. During such times, you may experience grief reactions like sadness, anger, guilt, and fatigue.
Emotional reactions to a loss, even years after the death, are completely normal. If you know that certain times of year remind you of your loss, try to be prepared ahead of time. Start a new tradition to remember the deceased, or plan for a way to distract yourself on that day. If the feelings of grief are sudden and unexpected, you should allow yourself to feel those emotions. Reach out to friends and family to talk about the loss, or join a support group where you can find the help you need.
Get Help with Grief
If you’re grieving and think that you need help, start by reaching out to friends who can listen without judgement. You can also speak to a priest, minister, or other religious leader in your community; many religious organizations also have lay counselors available who you can talk to. If you’re looking for a professional counselor or psychiatrist, ask your physician if they can recommend anyone. You can also call the psychology department at a local college or university to ask for a referral.
Psychology Today offers a list of grief psychologists and support groups throughout the U.S. and Canada that you can search for a local therapist. You can also search via the website of the American Psychological Association. The Association for Death Education and Counseling provides a searchable list of members who can help, including members of the clergy, counselors, and social workers. If you’re dealing with the death of a loved one by suicide, you can find a support group through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
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When we suffer a loss, it’s natural to grieve. The loss of a person who we care about, in particular, can leave us feeling deeply sad and with a feeling of emptiness. It’s important to understand the grieving process so that we can feel and experience our sorrow fully as a way to move toward healing. There is no set timetable or specific steps for how to deal with grief that are right for every person, but knowing the common feelings and behaviors that many people experience can help us see that our reactions are normal – or to recognize when there is a problem that needs professional help.
Common Ways that We Feel Grief
Everyone feels grief in some way, although we don’t all react to a loss in the same fashion. Some common feelings that people experience as part of the grieving process include the following:
- Sorrow and sadness
- A feeling of emptiness
- Anger and frustration, at ourselves, the deceased, God, and others
- Apathy and numbness
- A feeling of unreality or disbelief
- Helplessness and fear
- Anxiety and nervousness
- The desire to be alone
Along with these emotional reactions, many people have a physical response to grief. You may be exhausted and unable to motivate yourself to do much of anything. Some people sleep more than usual, while others face insomnia. Food is often a coping mechanism, whether that means eating a lot of high fat, high sugar “comfort” foods or the inability to eat anything at all – deciding what to eat or not eat is a way that many people exert control over their lives, especially when they feel like they cannot control anything else.
All of these reactions, emotional and physical, are common ways of coping with grief and nothing to be concerned about. When the grieving process starts to take over your life, however, you do need to seek professional help. It’s normal to cry and feel very sad after a loved one dies, for example, but if you can’t get out of bed for days on end and feel like there’s no point in going on with your life, you need help. Other signs that you aren’t coping with grief in a healthy way include drinking or taking drugs to block out your emotions, serious overeating, lashing out at others, and thinking about hurting yourself or other people.
If you have anxiety or depression or are having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to seek out help immediately. Professional counselors, psychiatrists, and others can help you. Of course, there is nothing wrong with asking for help, even if you aren’t hurting yourself or others. Often, reaching out and just talking to someone can help with the grieving process.
The Five Stages of Grief
Many people are familiar with the Five Stages of Grief (or, more accurately, dying) as suggested by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, “On Death and Dying.”
These stages are a common part of the grieving process for many people, and it can be helpful to see them as a path to follow. If we find ourselves feeling angry about a person’s death, for example, seeing that it’s a “normal” part of how to grieve can mean that we allow ourselves to feel this emotion and, in so doing, move past it. Part of coping with grief effectively is allowing ourselves to feel what we feel and not suppressing our emotions because we think that they aren’t appropriate.
It’s important to remember that not everyone experiences these stages, and not everyone who does experience them does so in the same order. You might skip a stage altogether, or revisit a stage after you think you’ve handled it already. While there are common ways of coping with grief, each person goes through their own process and you shouldn’t judge yourself – or others – based on some “right” method for how to grieve. As long as you’re not hurting yourself or others, and you’re getting the help and support that you need, your grieving process should take whatever shape it needs to.
How to Deal with Grief
There is no set of guidelines for how to grieve, but coping with grief in a healthy way typically includes many of the following:
- Let yourself feel your emotions, even if you think they aren’t appropriate. Take some time for yourself, and acknowledge if you feel guilt, regret, anger, relief, or any of the other feelings that you might think are not appropriate. While you might not want to express these reactions in front of others, let yourself feel them so that you can move past them.
- Practice healthy habits. Try to eat mostly healthy foods, limit your alcohol intake, and get plenty of sleep. Take a walk outside to relax your mind and body.
- Take some time out for yourself. You may want to pray, write down your feelings in a journal, read a favorite book that brings you comfort, or simply sit quietly with your thoughts. You need some time to put yourself first.
- Return to a normal routine, once you feel like you are able to do so. Isolating yourself can make it harder to deal with your feelings and make it more difficult to accept that life goes on. Having the distraction of work, family, and “normal” life can help put your loss into perspective.
- Seek out a counselor, support group, minister, or even a good friend and talk about your loss. Many people find that simply talking about how they are feeling helps with the grieving process and healing from their loss.
Remember that there is no set timetable for when you’re supposed to be “over it.” Grief takes as long as it takes. As long as you’re dealing with your loss in a healthy way and it’s not preventing you from dealing with everyday life, then don’t be too hard on yourself. You may experience sudden moments of grief months or even years later, especially when an anniversary or other event reminds you of your loss. Recognize your feelings, be kind to yourself, and give yourself some time to get back to your routine.
What Types of Loss Is It OK to Grieve?
We often think of grief as a specific reaction to death, usually the death of a loved one. In reality, we can grieve all types of loss, including the death of a pet, the loss of a job, or the ending of a relationship. The depth of feeling may not always be as deep as it would be for the death of someone we love, but it’s still a significant loss that we should allow ourselves to mourn.
Because these losses aren’t always recognized as being worthy of such sorrow, we may struggle to figure out how to deal with grief that accompanies them. This type of reaction is called “disenfranchised grief,” and it can be especially hard to cope with. It’s completely natural to feel grief for all types of loss, and to express that sorrow in ways that will help you heal. If you have people in your life who don’t acknowledge your mourning or think that you should, “just get over it,” seek out a counselor or support group where you can find a more sympathetic ear.
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When we or someone we know loses a loved one, it can be difficult to find the right words to express how we feel. Fortunately, there are many famous quotes about grief, death, and loss from others that can not only put our feelings into words, but also give us a new perspective on our loss. We offer a selection of meaningful grief quotes that you may find helpful for dealing with your sorrow, and quotes on grief that you may want to use in a eulogy or condolence message.
“Say not in grief ‘he is no more’ but live in thankfulness that he was.” – Hebrew proverb
“He that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it.” – Turkish proverb
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving.
“As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.” – Leonardo DaVinci
“Though lovers be lost, love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.” – Dylan Thomas
“Tears water our growth.” – William Shakespeare
“A death is not the extinguishing of a light, but the putting out of the lamp because the dawn has come.” – Rabindranath Tagore
“Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.” – Richard Bach
“Memory nourishes the heart, and grief abates.” – Marcel Proust
“I still miss those I loved who are no longer with me but I find that I am grateful for having loved them. The gratitude has finally conquered the loss.” – Rita Mae Brown
“To hold, you must first open your hand. Let go.” – Lao Tzu
“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be made strong, in fact. But the process is like all other human births, painful and long and dangerous.” – Margery Allingham
“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.” – Henry David Thoreau
“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief – but the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.” – Hilary Stanton Zunin
“And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.” – Khalil Gibran
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Grief is a natural, normal reaction to loss. If you’re struggling with your loss, there are a number of bible verses for grief that may bring you comfort.
Throughout the Bible, we are often advised not to weep or let grief overcome us. There are many bible verses on grief that suggest that, while grief has its time and place, we should remember that we will live on after this life. In addition, many bible verses about grief remind us that God will bring comfort to those who grieve.
What Does the Bible Say About Grief and Death?
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4
“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.” – Isaiah 25:8
“The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity; he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.” – Isaiah 57:1-2
“Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” – Psalm 30:5
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” – 1 Corinthians 15:54-55
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
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For many people, grief is more than just feeling sad. There are a wide range of physical and emotional grief symptoms beyond those we might be familiar with. It’s important to remember that everyone grieves in their own way, and while you might share some of these common symptoms of grief, you won’t necessarily experience all of them.
Emotional Grief Symptoms
When we think about the symptoms of grief, it’s the emotional response that probably first comes to mind. When we experience a serious loss, we often feel a very deep sadness. Many people also experience some of these additional emotional grief symptoms:
- Guilt and remorse
- Shock and numbness
- Anger (at ourselves, at others, or at the deceased)
- Feeling lonely or abandoned
- Fear and anxiety
- Feeling like you’re going crazy or can’t control your emotions
It’s not uncommon to feel emotions that seem contradictory – feeling lonely, for example, but isolating yourself from others. You might be angry at the person who died, then feel relieved that they are no longer suffering, then feel guilty about your anger and your relief. If you feel like you can’t control your emotions, talking to someone can help. Seek out a close friend who can listen without judgement; a priest, minister, or other religious leader; a professional counselor; a support group; or another person who you feel comfortable speaking with. Often, when we grieve, we fear that people will judge us or question our reactions. Look for support from a person or group that will listen and be present without making you feel like your reaction isn’t appropriate.
Physical Symptoms of Grief
In addition to the emotional grief symptoms, many people have a physical reaction to loss. You may feel some or all of the following physical symptoms of grief:
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Headache and muscle pains
- Stomach ache and nausea
- Difficulty breathing and chest pain
- Confusion and the inability to concentrate
- Increase in blood pressure
- Weakened immune system
A number of studies have been conducted on how grief affects the heart, in particular. Research indicates that people are at higher risk for a heart attack in the days following a loss, for example. In addition, the stress of grief can cause takotsubo cardiomyopathy or “broken heart syndrome” in which the left ventricle of the heart weakens. This condition mimics a heart attack, but it is treatable and most patients recover over time.
Delayed Grief Symptoms
Delayed grief is a reaction to loss that is postponed and occurs later than is typical. In many cases, delayed grief symptoms are similar to the more common emotional and physical symptoms of grief, they just take place months or even years after the loss. Sometimes, people feel like they need to be strong for others after a death, so they don’t allow themselves to mourn. They may suddenly feel the grief months later, once the situation has calmed and seemingly been dealt with.
Complicated Grief Symptoms
Also known as prolonged grief disorder, complicated grief is characterized by heightened, ongoing feelings of grief, typically for six months or longer. Other complicated grief symptoms include the following:
- Feelings of numbness or apathy
- The inability to think about anything other than the deceased
- Being unable to think about any positive experiences with the deceased
- Deep bitterness, anger, and irritability
- Intense sorrow and longing for the loved one who has passed away
- Being unable to find any meaning in life
Complicated grief often requires professional treatment. If you or someone you know does not seem to be able to move on several months after a loss and no longer is able to carry out normal activities, it’s time to ask for help. If you have thoughts of suicide, talk to someone immediately – turn to a trusted friend, a counselor, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). Call 911 if you think that you might act on suicidal thoughts or urges.
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