I am often asked ‘what is grief?’, ‘what should I be feeling?’, ‘when will it be over?’.  This article gives some insight to a process we will all be a part of at some time.


Grief and loss


There is no one “right” way to grieve, and there is no way to anticipate exactly how the feelings of sadness, anger, loss, and loneliness will heal and resolve. Some have described the grieving process as a roller coaster, filled with highs and lows. Over time the roller coaster evens out so the highs and lows are more manageable, but the big ups and downs can reappear, especially at important family events, anniversaries, holidays, or other special occasions. People who have suffered grief do say that it will get better with time and the support of friends and loved ones. 

Loss of a loved one

The most intense grief experience usually comes from the death of a loved one. Feeling empty and numb is common. Besides deep feelings of sadness and sorrow, physical symptoms may arise—long- or short-term memory loss or the inability to eat or sleep, for example. Sleeping or eating too much is also common. Other emotions in the grieving process can be profound sadness, longing for the loved one, guilt or regret, anxiety, fear, ambivalence or helplessness. Strange or disturbing dreams can arise. Absent-mindedness is common. In fact, grief and sorrow can lead to a sense of “losing one’s mind.” Such feelings and behaviors are normal and will pass.

There is no timetable for the grieving process.

Over time, the intense grief and sorrow subside. As the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization states, the “sweet sadness” that arises when you remember your loved one “is simply the acknowledgment that significant loss has occurred. That the loss, and the person who is gone, matters and affects our lives.”

Stages of grief

Many people are familiar with the five stages of grief introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969. These stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

The model was based on Kübler-Ross’s work with terminally ill patients. Since her initial research, the stages of grief have been used to describe many types of losses.

Some people have found the stages to be a helpful way to think about grief; others have not. Grief counselors and researchers point out that the stages describe grief as a passive process. In the decades since Kübler-Ross’s work, people who work with the bereaved have learned that grief is an active process. Many people find it empowering to know that they are resilient. They take comfort in actively processing their feelings and memories and creating ways to honor and celebrate their loved one..

Common misconceptions

Grieving should not last longer than six months.
There is no timeline for grief. Again, grief reactions vary in intensity. They can be triggered or worsened by anniversaries and holidays. If someone’s grief is severely interfering with daily functioning, it could be a sign of complicated grief, and a healthcare provider should be consulted.

Only weak individuals grieve.

Everyone grieves. After a loss, feelings are unpredictable. They can range from sadness to fear to loneliness to anger. Hiding emotions during grief is not helpful. Processing feelings is extremely important to heal and recover from grief and loss.

Not crying following a loss means you are not experiencing grief.

Lack of crying or sadness following a death does not mean someone is not grieving. Many people are in a state of shock or numbness following a death and aren’t able to cry. Others may cry privately. Some who come to terms with the death quickly do not appear as affected by the death compared to others who show more outward signs of grief.

We slowly and predictably recover from grief.

Grief is an uneven process, best thought of as a roller coaster with no timeline. It doesn’t have a specific ending point, and recovering does not mean “letting go”; rather, over time most people learn to live with the loss.

People who are grieving need to be left alone.

Social support is extremely important for people who are grieving, for a period long after the loss. People who are grieving need opportunities to share their memories, talk about their loved one and their loss, and receive support from others.