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Understanding the universal experience of grief
Health Matters

Understanding the universal experience of grief

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While the experience of grief in reaction to loss is universal, individuals go through the process of grieving in their own unique ways. While grief is one of the most powerful emotions, it is also one of the most neglected and misunderstood experiences, by both the bereaved and their family and friends.

There is no “right or wrong” way to grieve. One of most important things you can do for a person who has experienced a loss is to allow them to tell their story and be an active listener. A person who is grieving may go through a variety of emotions including anger, sadness, worry, relief, shock and denial. Grief can also affect our bodies. It can contribute to headaches and forgetfulness.

People who are grieving may feel like they are on a rollercoaster of emotions, since grief often comes in waves or cycles rather than straightforward steps. These responses and many other responses to grief are natural, healthy expressions of the transitions encountered as we allow ourselves to grieve. As long as the emotions are not disabling to the bereaved person, this is seen as normal grieving.

Grief is an individual journey and one that cannot be ignored. It must be walked through. Grieving for a loved one is not something you can “get over” and there is no timeline for how long it will last. Society does not encourage talking about death or loss, but we will all face them at some point in our lives.

Making major decisions during the grieving process is not usually encouraged. Sometimes people feel like they will never get past the strong emotions, but there are some things people can do to find ways to cope.

Embracing grief and giving voice to your grief can be therapeutic. Allowing yourself permission to cry can also be healing. Some people find that journaling helps, as can rituals that celebrate the life of your loved one.

Individuals tend to have their own grieving style, which may be shaped by their culture and personality. Discovering the “new normal” in your life may be difficult. While secondary losses are not usually recognized, they can be significant. Oftentimes after the first few weeks of the loss, family and friends quit calling. But since support is an important factor in moving forward, joining a grief support group may help.

Author J. William Worden, in “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy,” views grief as a series of “tasks” to resolve before mourning and healing are complete. The four tasks include: accepting the reality of the loss, working through the pain; adjusting to the new circumstances, and finding an enduring connection to the deceased while reinvesting in life and moving forward. His approach may offer insight as the bereaved work through their pain.

Dianna Grantham, a RiverStone Health Hospice bereavement specialist, can be reached at 651-6500 or


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