Is There a Right Way to Grieve?
We often think of grief as a process that only happens when someone close to us dies. But the reality is we grieve losses of all kinds throughout our lives. This has been especially apparent in recent years as our entire lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic. In fact, this has been one of the only times in recent history when everyone in the world has experienced loss at the same time: loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, loss of important milestones, loss of life as we knew it.
And despite our notions of what grief should look like, everyone grieves differently.
What is Grief?
Grief, in its essence, is the human response to loss. Beyond this simple definition, grief is difficult to define because it encompasses a range of emotions and looks different for everyone who experiences it.
Grief is most often discussed as a response to the death of a loved one, and while this is one of the most important sorrows we grieve, there are many other losses that can bring on the grieving process, such as:
- Job loss
- Loss of a friendship
- An ended relationship
- A move
- Drastic changes in daily life
- Absence, physically or emotionally, of a parent
- Loss of physical ability
- Loss of financial security
Chances are you’ve experienced at least one of these losses throughout the pandemic, which means you’ve probably gone through some type of grieving process, whether you’ve realized it or not.
What Does the Grieving Process Look Like?
While everyone’s grief looks different, there are certain common experiences grieving people often go through.
It takes getting through that first Christmas, that first birthday, that first anniversary of the loss, to start to realize that you’ll be able to carry on with life after the loss.
Josh Ulrich, a virtual therapist for Meadows Behavioral Healthcare’s MBH Connect, discusses the commonly referenced grieving process steps in an episode of our podcast, Beyond Theory. These steps, or stages, include the following:
There is no particular order for these stages, and you may go back and forth between a few or all of them. And once you’ve gotten to some level of acceptance, it takes a good year, says Ulrich, to truly process the grief. It takes getting through that first Christmas, that first birthday, that first anniversary of the loss, to start to realize that you’ll be able to carry on with life after the loss.
Dr. Pauline Boss, who has studied grief throughout her long career as a therapist, coined the phrase “ambiguous loss” to describe the losses we experience that are less clear and often go unacknowledged. She describes in The New York Times how she has spent decades with people whose losses didn’t have resolution, such as having a parent with Alzheimer’s or a spouse missing in action overseas.
And the last two years have brought this type of loss to the forefront with the pandemic, George Floyd’s death, and the attack on the Capitol. These events, while not a typical loss, create a sort of atmospheric grief as people feel a sense of loss from such traumatic experiences.
Boss, who rejects the idea that grief is linear, has her own nonsequential guidelines for the grieving process:
- Making meaning out of loss
- Relinquishing your desire to control an uncontrollable situation
- Recreating identity after loss
- Becoming accustomed to ambivalent feelings
- Redefining your relationship with whatever or whomever was lost
- Finding new hope
So, is there a right way to grieve? Well, yes and no. While grief does not have to look a certain way, or end after a certain amount of time, what does have to happen is for you to process the loss. “It’s when we avoid the pain, use the drugs, use the behavioral addictions,” says Ulrich. “That’s when the pain lasts forever. You have to feel it … It doesn’t work otherwise.”
Support for Those Grieving
One of the phrases Ulrich uses often is, “You grieve as you live.” So, if you are an introvert, you probably won’t want to be around people when you grieve. If you are an extrovert, you might never want to be alone. If playing golf relaxes you, you might even grieve by playing golf.
It’s important to tell stories as you grieve — good stories and bad stories — and group therapy is a great place to do this.
Whether you find yourself wanting to be around people or not while you grieve, you may feel like no one truly understands what you’re going through. This is where grief therapy can be extremely beneficial.
In grief group therapy sessions, you’re able to sit with others who are experiencing the same emotions as you, who understand intimately what you are feeling. It’s important to tell stories as you grieve — good stories and bad stories — and group therapy is a great place to do this. It’s also important to let yourself feel all the emotions that come with your grief, and therapy provides the space for that as well.
If you’re looking for support, The Meadows Outpatient Centers offer a virtual grief and loss curriculum as part of our online treatment program. Reach out today to let us help you process and heal from the grief you are feeling from any form of loss.