For many years, working through grief was thought of in stages. The assumption was that if completed the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), you would somehow come out on the other side as healed. While these feelings certainly arise during the grieving process, it is more widely recognized now that grief isn’t so linear. Since the Stages of Grief was introduced in the 1950’s, more fluid models of grieving have been developed, such as the dual process model of coping with bereavement. Essentially, this model considers the idea that a person oscillates among their feelings and actions, moving between having days of focusing on loss to days focusing on life.
These structures can be helpful for some but may cause us to assume that once we move through the stages of grief or we check certain boxes, we will somehow feel “better” or “fixed.” As wonderful as that would be, it is often not the case. This is because grief is a process, not a destination. It is an incredibly personal journey that does not look the same for everyone, even if they are grieving the same experience.
When We Grieve
It can be helpful to remember that grief is not only limited to death. We can also grieve when a relationship ends, we change jobs, or even grieve the loss of expectation if our life does not turn out how we pictured it. Types of grief can include anticipatory grief, disenfranchised grief, or complicated grief. Anticipatory grief occurs before a loss or change, such as a loved one with a terminal illness or preparing for retirement. Disenfranchised grief occurs when your grief is not acknowledged or recognized at the magnitude in which you feel it. For example, not being able to discuss the loss of a coworker, neighbor, or even a same-sex partner. Complicated grief occurs as a result of prolonged bereavement, usually as a result of the death of a loved one. Typically, daily functioning returns over time, but if you notice continuous, intense feelings and inability to engage in daily life activities, it may be a sign of complicated grief.
Symptoms of Grief:
Some symptoms of grief are more obvious, while others tend to be more surprising. Symptoms can show up differently for each grieving person. Here are a few worth noting:
Physical distress (i.e., fatigue, pain, nausea)
Changes in appetite
Changes in sleep
Memory lapse or brain fog
Depressive or anxious symptoms (i.e., excessive worry, isolation, guilt)
Anger or irritability
How to Cope
Just as grief looks different for everyone, so does coping with grief. There is no specific grief timeline, so giving yourself permission and space to grieve is important to the process.
Connect with friends of loved ones: Engaging with the people we care about can help us feel less isolated and supported. If you don’t want to talk, that’s perfectly ok! Sometimes just surrounding yourself with the comfort of your trusted network can be enough.
Set boundaries: Your grief is yours – don’t let anyone tell you how to feel or show up in that space. You are allowed to communicate your needs during this process. It may also be helpful to plan ahead for your grief “triggers” such as milestone dates or gatherings. Pay attention to your physical and emotional cues to set boundaries in these situations.
Self-care: Taking care of our personal needs through the grieving process can help with emotional coping. This could include exercise, eating healthy, or relaxing. You know better than anyone what fills you up and keeps you going.
Write: Journaling or even writing a letter can be a therapeutic and cathartic way to process grief feelings. It may even help you express things that went unsaid.
Individual Counseling: Sometimes our support system just doesn’t get it. They may try to find a silver-lining or constantly work to cheer you up. While this likely comes from a good place, it can sometimes leave us feeling misunderstood or unseen. Individual counseling offers a safe space to verbally process these feelings without expectation or agenda.
Group Therapy: Grief can feel lonely, so connecting with others who have been in similar situations can not only help us feel more supportive, it can also normalize many symptoms and feelings.
Grief is hard. Period. All your emotions are valid and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel. If you’re ready to start the process, please reach out to a counselor at Charlotte Judd’s practice. We are here to support you through your grief journey.
It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine
Grief Day by Day by Jan Warner
Grief Group Therapy in Houston: