Grief is a bond that binds us all. No one is immune to the experience of loss and, because we are unique individuals, our journeys through sadness and heartache will vary. So how do we distinguish between grieving that is leading to emotional healing, and a response that is hindering recovery? First, you must begin by understanding grief itself.
“The concept of grief describes the emotions and sensations accompanying the loss of someone or something dear. It has also been called the ‘sorrow of the soul,’” says Dr. David Wakefield with the Psychologist Mind Body Medicine Department at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “Grief connotes an experience of deep sorrow, one that touches every aspect of existence – redefining one’s understanding of the world, oneself and others.”
Wakefield shares that grief can weigh down a person, taking both a psychological and physical toll, and can repress the immune system. Physical reactions associated with grieving include a variety of sensations including fatigue, anger, anxiety, despair and relief.
Types of Grief
To further define grief, it is helpful to recognize that there are different types. The four types include normal, anticipatory, disenfranchised and complicated. Health information provided by the Mayo Clinic states that most people experience normal grief – a period of sorrow, numbness and even guilt and anger. However, gradually, these feelings ease, and the loss is accepted. Anticipatory grief occurs when grieving begins before a loss occurs. Disenfranchised grief is described as a loss that a person cannot acknowledge or share because it is considered socially unacceptable.
“Healthy grieving is a process of health and growth. Complicated grief is when we get stuck in the grieving process and it becomes problematic,” says Wakefield. “It may also be unnatural responses to loss, which delay the recovery process.”
It is complicated grief that can lead to a path of continued emotional instability and suspend one’s work to move forward in daily life. Symptoms can include depression and an inability to enjoy life, a sense of detachment and withdrawing from social activities, and feelings that life no longer holds any meaning or purpose. If you or a loved one exhibit these symptoms, it is important to seek help through family and friends, support groups and, if needed, help from a medical professional.
“Crisis intervention literature says, ‘the number one indicator of how well a person makes it through a crisis or a difficult time in their life is directly related to how much social support they have,’” says Wakefield.
Reaching out to friends and family for emotional support is vital to the healing process.
“Recovery is claiming your circumstances instead of your circumstances claiming your happiness,” says Wakefield. “It’s also one day realizing that your ability to talk about the loss you’ve experienced is in fact helping another person get through his or her loss.”
How to Help a Friend or Family Member Who is Grieving
Be present. Don’t let them walk this path alone.
Be a good listener. Allow them to share their pain in words by talking, writing or praying.
Don’t be judgmental or critical.
Encourage your friend to attend a support group in their area.
Offer prayer or literature that provides strength and comfort.