The Grieving Process
The grieving process, sometimes called “bereavement” is something we all experience when we lose someone or something important to us. Grief is an expression of our feelings – often deeply painful, complex emotions - about loss and death. Often, grief is proportional to the emotional connection we had to the person we’ve lost. One thing is certain, we humans experience the process of grief many times in our lives, but perhaps never as deeply as when we experience the death of someone dear to us.
Perhaps these quotes best put grief, and how we deal with it, into perspective:
“Grief is the price we pay for love.” – Queen Elizabeth 11
“Tears are the silent language of grief” – Voltaire.
“Suppressed grief suffocates, it rages within the breast, and is forced to multiply its strength” – Ovid.
There Isn’t a “How to Grieve” Handbook
Grief is a very personal process and there isn’t a handbook that teaches us “how to grieve”. Some people feel deep sadness, loss or longing, while others feel anger, regret, fear, or even relief or peace. Sometimes a bereaved person will feel one emotion at a time; sometimes many emotions at once. There is no right way to grieve. Each person’s experience is unique. There is, however, healthy grieving and unhealthy grieving. Healthy grieving can be thought of as expressions of grief and grief coping mechanisms (both conscious and subconscious) that help us continue functioning and eventually make the pain of our emotions less acute and more manageable. Unhealthy grieving, on the other hand, may involve unhealthy coping mechanisms that keep us stuck in grief, cause damage to ourselves and to our relationships.
Ways to Help the Grieving Process
Allow yourself to feel your emotions
Grief is a natural process. Denying yourself grieving can lead to delayed responses or unhealthy coping. The way to “get through” grief is to allow yourself to feel your emotions, without guilt and without judgement.
Get support from family, friends, co-workers and others you trust, or talk to a therapist and/or join a support group (see “Grief Support” below).
Support others who are grieving
If someone else you know (friend, family member, co-worker) is experiencing grief over someone’s passing, support that person in their grief. Sharing your grieving experience, memories and supporting one another, can lessen each others’ grief and will make you feel less alone or stranded in painful emotions.
Be good to yourself
Be especially kind to yourself while you are mourning. Do your best to eat and drink healthily, rest, entertain yourself and connect with others. While you may not feel like being around others, people, entertainment, food and fun may be a welcome distraction from what seems like never-ending emotional pain.
Get some exercise
Walking, running, bike riding, yoga or any physical activity benefits both the mind and body. Exercise can help you relax and sleep more soundly, provide you with “me time” to either shut out the pain temporarily or contemplate your grieving experience. Sustained physical activity also releases endorphins – the “feel good hormones” in the brain - that are calming.
Establish or maintain a routine
Establishing a routine or schedule can provide needed structure that can help balance the painful and complex emotions you feel while grieving. Make social interaction and connection with family and friends part of that routine. Doing so will give you something to look forward to and respite from grief. Keeping a routine is part of taking care of yourself through the grieving process. It ensures you carry on, as best you can, with your life and provides order during a difficult time.
Honor the memory of a love one who has passed
Honoring the memory of a loved who has passed can help you in your grief. This is why we created The Memorial Post. We saw a need for free and low cost online obituaries to allow friends and family to share a loved one’s story and memories.
Avoid alcohol or drugs as a coping strategy
“Self-medicating” with alcohol and drugs may mask emotional pain temporarily, but they will not help you grieve. Alcohol and some drugs may have a depressant effect or hangover-effect that can intensify emotions and make you feel more vulnerable and less able to cope with your feelings.
When Grief Becomes Unmanageable
The process of grieving is painful, and a natural part of loving, caring and emotional attachment. While it is part of life, grieving can become unmanageable. In healthy grieving, bereavement may last for months or even years, but the feelings of grief eventually lose their hold on us. With the passage of time, the intensity of our emotions usually wanes. In the first weeks or months after experiencing the death of a loved one, you can expect to feel some depression, deep sadness, anger, guilt and other emotions. The feelings may rise and fall in intensity. You may feel “okay” for weeks or even months at a time then find yourself back in moments of emotional pain, mourning anew when you remember the loved one you lost. Grief is not a straight line. It meanders, recedes into the distance for awhile, then may return momentarily, but over time, it usually fades.
Protracted grief or acute grief that stops you from working, eating, sleeping, taking care of yourself, maintaining a routine, connecting with others, or causes prolonged guilt or anger, may be a sign of depression or “complicated grief”. Grief and depression do co-exist, but the major difference between grief and depression is that grief tends to abate over time. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed.) recognizes protracted bereavement, calling it “Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder”. If you have persistent, disruptive or intense grief, including these symptoms, talk to your family doctor. You may need a professional help to overcome your grief.
While no one can tell you how to grieve, there is support in many communities. If you feel like connecting with others to help you through the grieving process, or want to talk to someone about how you feel, the following resources may be helpful.
- U.S.A. grief support group search.
Search for grief support groups by city or state.
- U.S. mental health hotlines
- Canada 211 (Government & Community Health and Social Services Info Line)
Call 211 and ask for bereavement or grief support groups or services in your area, or, search your provincial 211 online directory.
- Canada crisis lines
A list of crisis and suicide prevention help lines by province.
Disclaimer: Although we understand grief, we are not physicians or mental health professionals. If you are having difficulty with a loss, we encourage you to contact your doctor or other qualified health practitioner for help.