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Understanding Grief

What is grief?

Grief is the natural response to the loss of a person or things that we value or love and is almost always triggered by a loss of such. Grief can be associated with many losses. Grief is also quite common (though not talked about much) after divorce, separation, or loss of attachment to a lover/friend. In short, grief does not even have to be “big” or even what most people would consider significant. If you lose something that is valuable to you, it is natural to experience grief. Although the most common is death of a loved one. But any significant loss can lead to grief.

Grief is often quite intense and long-lasting and occurs on many levels from emotional, physical, social and spiritual. Especially in the early stages. Grieving can cause one to feel overwhelmingly sad and distraught. Although grief may also manifest emotionally one can become numb or disconnected.

In my own personal experience, I have dealt grief due to miscarrying during pregnancy. This is also a loss that is less talked about but common among women. I have suffered 3 miscarriages and in January of 2019 just over a year ago I suffered the loss of twin babies due to neonatal death (occurs within 28 days after birth). The neonatal mortality rate (NMR) is reported per 1000 live births (IDFNI 6th edition) 2006. On top of dealing with the loss of my babies I lost a beloved father and great great grandmother.

So, I was certainly going through a lot of emotional grief. There are many symptoms of grief that occur on many different levels. Shock, surprise, and confusion are common emotional reactions to loss, especially if it’s sudden or unexpected.

Sadness is often the most common emotional symptom of grief, and is often accompanied by other related emotions, such as loneliness, despair, nostalgia, or anguish towards yourself or others who have no fault.

Anger is another common emotional symptom of grief. Because of the frequency of my experience, I was angry at God, the father of my babies, and medical providers. This type of anger led me to overwhelmingly blaming the father for the many have nots that exited and mentally suffocating him, I wanted him to feel my loneliness, emptiness of my womb, and my anger. I wanted, I needed him to mourn and grieve.

Guilt frequently comes along with grief, often over things unsaid and undone or not making amends. Other stages of grief are fear and anxiety (panic attacks) which are common symptoms of grief. It is normal to feel anxious, worried, or helpless. It is not unusual for grief to also trigger fears about oneself and one’s own mortality or frailty.

I have gone through severe mental stages of depression, panic and anxiety. I have also found myself ruminating over perceived mistakes or missteps related to the death of my babies. I beat myself up wishing that I could have changed the many life events that had taken place before pregnancy and after. This rumination caused me additional emotional distress, on top of the emotional toll of grief I was already going through.

I was filled with worry. It is common during grief to worry about what life will be like without the person or thing we’ve lost. It is also common to worry about the spiritual state of our loved one after death. But it was the significance of my worries during grief that led to high levels of anxiety. Otherwise, to worry a little is not uncommon.

Intrusive memories during the grieving process. All who has loved and lost will think of past times of their love one. This is normal, all sorts of people, places, or things will trigger memories of the loved one who is passed away or other loss. Although it is understandable and habitually to avoid people and situations that might trigger painful memories, it can also make those memories even more common and intrusive. Fantasizing is another part of the grieving process. People in the grief process find themselves fantasizing about what their life would be like if the person or that thing had not been lost.

If we do not manage to care for ourselves grief can take a toll on our bodies in physical form. Such as tiredness and fatigue weight gain and loss, changes to our appetite, increased aches and pains may occur during grief; these are all common. We also must be aware of behavioral and social patterns when we are grieving. Unintentionally we can hurt people feelings. As the saying goes hurt people, hurt people. When we are grieving it is not done to cause another to be dismayed. Other physical signs of grief can be insomnia, difficulty sleeping, isolation, avoidance of usual activities, low motivation, and lack of interest in normally enjoyed activities can occur.

It is important to understand that while grief and depression are similar in many ways, and share many overlapping causes and symptoms, they are distinct:

Typically, people who are grieving experience a wider range of emotional experiences than those who are depressed. While sadness may dominate, for instance, they are often still capable of experiencing joy in other areas of their life even if the effect is somewhat blunted.

Other symptoms of depression that are not typically associated with grief include: suicidal thoughts or actions, feelings of despair and hopelessness, auditory or visual hallucinations, consistently unable to go about daily activities at home or at work, dramatically slowed movement, and speech.

If you think you might be depressed in addition to your grief, it is perfectly okay to make an appointment with your primary care doctor or even schedule a session with a local counselor or therapist to discuss. Often, just a few sessions with a professional can help you clarify what you are experiencing and help decide about how best to proceed.

Importantly, even if you are not depressed, but are experiencing increase stresses because of grief it is a perfectly valid reason to see a counselor or therapist. They may be able to help you navigate your grief in a healthy way as possible and simply provide support and validation through a difficult time.

We all experience grief differently no two, three, or four people will get through or over grief the same. I have gone through many stages of grief. Acceptance, bargaining, anger, denial and depression and I have gone through such in no specific order. So, some will and maybe some will not go through, In my research when trying to understand and cope with my own grief I found a model of grief stages. While the model below maybe useful to help make sense of grief, the stages probably are not linear and likely would not apply to everyone in this order. If at all.

Denial. In this first stage, the individual believes that the loss unreal or a mistake and engages in various forms of denial.

Anger. Once the individual comes to terms with the reality of the situation, they tend to become frustrated and externalize their grief in the form of anger. Often these manifests as criticism of people close to the loss such as doctors or family members.

Bargaining. This stage involves holding out hope that a better outcome can be attained. Often it takes the form of negotiation with God.

Depression. The fourth stage involves despair, sadness, and isolation at the finality of the loss.

Acceptance. In the final stage, people embrace the finality of the loss and report a kind of inner calm and peace with the fact of the loss.

My own view is that for many people the specific stages and the idea that one must progress through them can be more invalidating than helpful. Many people do not ever go through stages of denial or bargaining but can feel like they are “doing grief wrong” if they’re not going by such model.

Instead, I think about grief in terms of stages generally is helpful. This just makes us more aware in acknowledging our grief. Loss may look different a week later, a month later, or a year later. That is, grief is a developmental process—it is something that’s fluid and dynamic and dependent on all sorts of factors from support systems, personality, culture to environmental conditions and physical health.

Remember: there is no one correct way to experience grief. But you can expect that it will change with time and that there is nothing necessarily wrong with that. In fact, it is likely a good thing and a sign that your grief is unfolding in a healthy way.

Upsides and Benefits of Grief

To be clear, a discussion of the “upsides” or “benefits” of grief is in no way a suggesting that losing someone or something in life is a good thing. Rather, it’s important to acknowledge that within the sadness and grief of loss, it is possible to find positives.

When it comes to my own grievances, I found getting out to parties, taking trips, taking on business projects as well as journaling was therapeutic. I also realize my grieving is proportional to my love and value. In other words, I feel so strongly that my loss reflects how much love and value I still have for my babies and the father. This was a powerful way of “transforming” my grief.

Loss and grief can also mark the beginning of new chapters or stages in our lives. And while transitions are often rocky and painful, the very pain of them forces us to change, grow and readapt. Grief is a highly individual process, as unique as the people experiencing it. Everything from our personal histories and culture to personality traits and temperament affects how we experience and cope with major loss in our life. That said, due to my educational background I had many informational resources to help me cope with my grief in a healthy way. Based on a broad range of research it seems to me there are some common themes in the stories of those who manage to grieve well. For the wellness of my grief, I used 6 Practical Tips for Coping with my grief and loss because they seemed to have helped others.

These helped me in and through my grieving process. You can think about it and navigate your own grieving process in a compassionate, constructive, and healthy way as I am doing.

1. Don’t put time-limits on your grief.

Most of us understand that grief is normal and inevitable after a major loss. But the duration of grief is not as well understood. Many people think that it should last for a year but no more. Some people think it may last for a while but should feel much easier after the first couple weeks.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any way to know how long our grief “should” last because I am still grieving. It is important to acknowledge this inherent uncertainty instead of fighting against it by putting artificial deadlines on our grief, which often backfire.

Grief does lessen with time, but how quickly and to what extent is difficult to predict.

If experiencing a major loss, will always cause us to feel some sadness and grief when reminded of that loss. And while that can be hard to accept, it makes sense if you think about it: If someone or something was a major part of your life, it’s not realistic to think that just because you’ve gone through a grieving process you will no longer feel sadness or regret when you’re reminded of it.

Grief is about learning to accept and manage our sadness around loss, not to eliminate it.

2. Resist comparing your grief to other people’s.

The act of comparing our grief to that of others and then judging it accordingly usually isn’t helpful.

For one thing, everyone’s life and circumstances and the nature of their loss are unique. Which means even if the superficial details look similar, comparing griefs isnt always an apples to oranges comparison.

In the age of Instagram and Dr. Google, it’s all-to-easy to compare our grief and the grieving process to that of other people.

This impulse to compare and contrast our grief with others is natural. We’re social creatures and we crave the knowledge that what we’re experiencing isn’t completely foreign or outside the norm.

Which means it’s not surprising when we find ourselves wishing we could get on with life as quickly as others did. Or wondering why others don’t look, act of feel like we do or appear to as if they so quickly bounce back after a loss during childbirth.

Avoid too much comparison when it comes to grief, it’s usually invalidating. Baked into most comparisons is a subtle evaluation that our grief should look and feel more like someone else’s. The implication being that there’s something wrong with you or someone else’s grief.

Consequently, in addition to feeling bad about your loss, you’re feeling bad about feeling bad. This second layer of painful emotion will only make processing your grief harder and longer, so it’s best to avoid the comparisons and remind yourself that even though it seems like a simple comparison, it’s never that simple. Grief is complex. And complexity doesn’t lend itself well to superficial comparisons.

3. Spend time grieving intentionally. Cry if you need to cry it’s not weakness; You are not a wimp

This one sounds strange, but it’s based on a key idea in the mechanics of emotion: What we resist, persists. When our mind see us fighting with or running away from something (including an emotion like sadness, for example), it learns to see that thing as a threat. Which means the next time something triggers your sadness, your mind is going to go on high alert, increasing your anxiety and overall level of emotionality. Trying to avoid difficult emotions only makes them stronger in the long-run.

And while the pain of sadness will always be there, it’s a lot easier to work through and bear when it’s not also overburdened with fear, shame, frustration, and all sorts of other difficult feelings that come from training our minds to think of sadness as dangerous.

Practically speaking, one of the best things you can do is make time to grieve and be sad on purpose. Carve out some time on a regular basis to approach your grief and sadness intentionally and willingly.

When you approach your grief willingly, it signals to your own mind that what you’re experiencing is painful but not bad or dangerous.

For me this is the most powerful utilized technique for managing my grief I know of. Every single time I wrote in my journal, went on a vacation, or just got out of my bed and the darkness of my room I’ve had positive results.

4. Seek out the right kind of social support.

The idea that you should seek out social support during grief is one of the most common pieces of advice out there for processing grief. It’s also one of the most misunderstood. The key mistake people make is that they assume social support means talking to other people specifically about your grief or loss:

If you have supportive family members or a good friend who has or is going through such, it therapeutic to lean on them for emotional support. Having someone who understands and listens compassionately, allowing you to grieve intentionally will validate your pain and suffering.

If you tend to deal with such alone or do not have anyone to lean on like myself; I found other ways to cope such as writing in my journal about my loss and the sadness that I am feeling and dealing with. I went out to parties and took vacations. If you are a person of talent you can channel your grief into your artistry and creative projects.

You do not have to: Join a support groups, neither do you have to continuously keep having emotionally draining conversations about your loss. And while deliberately talking about and sharing your grief can be helpful, for some people at certain stages, that is not the only way to get social support while you are grieving. Just because you are grieving, does not mean you have to talk about you lost all the time, I SURELY DON’T!!

5. Allow yourself to feel more than just sadness.

A common pattern I see among people who struggle with grief is that they believe it’s somehow wrong or unnatural to feel anything other than sorrow and sadness. But these rigid demands and expectations for their emotional lives often end up magnifying their suffering. By limiting our grief exclusively to sadness, we end up invalidating the emotionally complex nature of grief.

Remember, grief is a response to significant loss. And while sadness is often a large or even dominant part of our emotional reaction to loss, it is almost never the only one:

It’s okay to feel angry and disappointed.

It’s okay to feel afraid or anxious about your future as a result of your loss.

In short, it’s okay to feel anything when you’re grieving. And while many of the emotions we feel are difficult or even painful, it’s important to acknowledge and validate all of them as legitimate and natural.

In fact, in my experience, I am accepting of all my emotions and reactions during my grieving process. I take it as it comes, without judgment or expectation. With so many media outlets to disclose oneself on, I have avoided posting about my pain, loss and grief. I do this to avoid false concerns from others

My grief has healthy, meaning that I myself embrace the full range of emotions it contains with compassion and understanding.

6. Take self-care seriously.

An underappreciated part of healthy grieving is taking care of yourself, especially your body.

When loss and grief strike, your life is understandably thrown into disarray and disorder. From legal and logistical issues to social and emotional changes, grief can be chaotic.

Unfortunately, amid the chaos and confusion of grief, many people let go of healthy habits and routines they normally engage in. Ironically, this makes it harder to navigate your grief well.

Poor selfcare ranges from risky behavior and could be an underlining mental health concern. Please consider the behaviors you engage very much could harm someone else. Seek professional help if these exist:

Excessive drinking and drug use

Self Harm/Suicidal Thoughts

Loss of Appetite/Overeating

Changes to physical health habits are especially harmful:

Diet and nutrition. It’s easy to slip into unhelpful eating habits during times of grief. The content and quantity of how much we eat can have a profound effect on our emotional and physical wellbeing. Both overeating and undereating can actually make it harder to navigate the many challenges of grief and the grieving process.

Exercise and physical activity. It’s natural to experience low levels of energy and motivation during grief. Which, of course, can make getting regular exercise challenging. But the reverse is true too - one of the best ways to gain energy, restore motivation and enthusiasm, and better regulate painful emotions is by staying physically active and exercising regularly. Even committing to a short daily walk can make all the difference.

Sleep. For many people going through the grieving process, bedtime and sleep can be an especially difficult time. While visitors, activities, and to-dos keep the mind occupied to some extent during the day, at bedtime many people experience a flood of painful memories, thoughts, and emotions. Consequently, they end up avoiding bedtime and disrupting their sleep routines and schedules. But poor sleep makes just about everything in life harder, including managing the many challenges of grief.

It’s natural during times of grief to have our focus dominated by thoughts of the person or things we’ve lost. But try your best not to let your attention and energies be totally dominated by it. If you are going to grieve well, you need a solid foundation of self-care, especially diet, exercise, and sleep.


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