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What is Grief?

Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. Grief is the emotional response people feel when someone or something they love is lost. Grief is most commonly associated with the loss of a loved one, but grief can also be a normal response to other losses or significant changes in life such as:

  • Job loss
  • Loss of health
  • Miscarriage
  • Loss of a home
  • A loved one’s serious illness
  • A relationship breakup
  • Loss of financial stability
  • Death of a pet
  • Loss of a dream
  • Loss of safety after a trauma

The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief response is likely to be, but even subtle losses can cause grief.

Everyone goes through loss and grief at some point in life, but each person experiences and deals with grief and loss differently. Loss is a human experience that occurs across all ages and cultures. All cultures have developed ways to cope with death. A person's culture may influence the rituals, ceremonies, traditions, and behaviors that are part of the grieving process. Helping families deal with loss includes showing respect for the family's cultural heritage and encouraging them to decide how to honor the death.

Grief is not a single event but is a process that occurs in response to a significant loss. It is important to remember that there is no “normal” time frame for grief because the depth and duration of grief is different for everyone. Some people begin to feel better in a matter of weeks to months, but for others the grief process may take years. However the grief experience proceeds, it is important to be patient and allow the process to occur naturally. Healing takes time, patience, courage, and support and should not be forced or hurried. If at any point you feel that your grief is concerning, you should contact a healthcare professional.

The Hospice Foundation of America says that grief is more like a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, high and lows. The rollercoaster ride of grief may be more difficult in the beginning with down periods that last longer, but as the grief process continues over time, the intensity and length of the grief will lessen. Grief takes time.

Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief is a natural process of mourning that may occur before a future loss. Usually, the expected loss is the death of someone close due to illness. Anticipated grief could also occur from non-death related losses such as scheduled surgery, expected divorce, company downsizing or war. Anticipatory grief is usually experienced by a family member or close friend but may also be experienced by the affected person.

When a person or family is expecting death, it is normal to begin to anticipate how one will react and cope when that person eventually dies. Many family members try to imagine their life without that person and try to predict which grief reactions they will experience after the death of their loved one and how they will adjust.

Anticipatory grief includes feelings of loss, extreme concern for the dying person, preparing for the death, and adjusting to the changes caused by the death. This period of grieving allows family and friends time to slowly prepare for the reality of loss and complete unfinished business with the dying person (for example, saying “good-bye,” “I love you,” or “I forgive you”).

Not everyone experiences anticipatory grief. When someone does experience anticipatory grief, it does not mean that the person feels the same kind of grief as the grief felt after death. It is also important to note that grief experienced before an anticipated loss does not make the grief after the loss shorter. Anticipatory grief is not simply normal grief beginning earlier; it is a different type of grief but still part of the normal mourning that occurs with loss.

Myths & Facts about Grief

MYTH: The pain of grief will go away faster if you ignore it.
Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.

MYTH: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.
Fact: Feeling sad, frightened or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.

MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.
Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.

MYTH: Grief should last about a year.
Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from person to person.

MYTH: Moving on with your life means you’re forgetting what you lost.
Fact: Moving on means you’ve accepted your loved one’s death. That is not the same as forgetting. You can create a new life and still keep your loved one’s memory a part of you.

MYTH: Friends can help by not bringing up the subject.
Fact: People who are grieving usually want and need to talk about their loss. Bringing up the subject can make it easier to talk about.