Grief is a normal response to loss. The more significant the loss is, the more intense the grief can be. Grief is most commonly associated with the death of a loved one, although any loss can cause grief, including: relationship breakup, decline in health, chronic illness, termination of employment, financial instability, a miscarriage, death of a pet, unable to fulfill a cherished dream, a loved one’s serious illness, ending a friendship, and not feeling safe after a trauma.
There are many ways in which clinicians, researchers and scholars have tried to explain the concepts of loss, grief, bereavement and mourning. These experiences are fundamental in life and familiar to everyone. We all encounter loss at some point and need to remember that loss does not only occur with a death. Each loss is distinctive and a combination of psychological, social, behavioral, spiritual and physical reactions. How we move through a grief experience will be unique to our loss and that time in our life.
Many of us feel a sense of awkwardness when someone tells us of a recent loss, whether it’s the death of a loved one, the breakup of a relationship or a cancer diagnosis. We begin to worry about what we will say, and quite often, we want to avoid the conversation entirely. We may want to try to “fix” the situation and take the grief away. This is all well intentioned although can lead to more grief for the individual. There is no perfect phrase or thing that you can say that will magically make his or her grief disappear.
Here are a few things to remember:
Say something. Engage in a conversation about the loss. Everyone wants to be understood and acknowledged. Be careful to not impose your beliefs or opinions.
Listen if they want to talk – openly and without judgment. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, it is unique to each individual and their current situation.
Be careful with suggestions and advice for how they should grieve. Avoid statements like: you should go out more often, don’t worry about things, you need to get back to normal, etc.
Don’t ask what do you need – most grievers find it difficult to answer this and frustrating. Their world is completely different following this loss and they are trying to sort things out. They may not know what they need right now.
Remember there are no magic words – sit, listen, and just be with the person
There is no timeline for grieving and mourning. I believe that mourning is finished when a person can fully reinvest their emotions into their life and think of the loss without pain. Our society places an emphasis on “getting over it” and moving on. We need to move towards the notion that grief has no clear beginning or end. There is no getting over it, we learn to adapt and live with the loss throughout our lifetime.