According to the Mayo Clinic, grief is “the natural reaction to loss. Grief is both a universal and a personal experience. Individual experiences of grief vary and are influenced by the nature of the loss.”
There is a lot in the sentence above. Take a moment and let it all sink in. Grief is “natural.” It is not weakness. Grief is “universal.” Everyone feels grief. “Individual experiences of grief vary.” We all do grief in our own way.
Grief is most often thought of as the emotional response to loss. But it is more than just emotional. Grief also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, and spiritual manifestations. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Many psychologists tell us there is no way to avoid grief. There is no way around grief, only through. They counsel that to move beyond the pain of loss a person must feel grief.
Why does grief hurt? The source of the pain is found in the nature of the loss. We are accustomed to thinking of grief as the feeling we have when we have lost someone we loved. But grief can also occur because you have lost someone who loved you. A parent, child, sibling, partner, or friend who really got you. Someone who made you feel loved. That love may have been something you felt every day, or it may have been a subtle rudder to your life. A love you just knew was there even though you did not hear its voice daily. Sometimes the loss is not only the loss of someone we loved, but it is also a loss of the incoming love we received from that person.
Grief may also be triggered by a loss of purpose. When a child dies the mother no longer serves that mother role. When a husband leaves the wife is no longer a wife. When a person has been a caregiver and the person they cared for dies, the caregiver role is lost. It can be confusing for the person feeling this “loss of purpose” grief. Intellectually, a former caregiver may feel relieved their loved one is no longer suffering and may be dismayed at their own feelings of sadness. When providing care has filled a person’s day, loss of the caregiving role leaves a hole in their life. The feeling is grief.
Death, divorce, and break-ups all trigger loss. That can be loss of the future that the one left behind planned to have with the person who is gone. Loss of hope. With the death, divorce, or break-up comes the end of the hope of a cure or of making the relationship work. Gone is the hope of growing old together. Even if the loss occurs after the love has gone, there is emotional pain, grief.
Grief is difficult work. No one can expect to avoid the experience of grief. When the loss—and the grief that comes with it—is associated with a death, we have rituals anchored in thousands of years of tradition to help us. Funerals exist only because our collective experience as human beings have shown us that coming together, sharing our love of the deceased, and getting and giving a hug provides comfort and helps us as we begin the grief journey.