Grief: A unique reaction to death or loss


By: Fay Green, MA, LPC, LMFT, FT

Grief is a unique, personal natural, normal, necessary reaction to death and loss. Death is a universal part of the human experience. Grieving is the internal reaction following a loss while mourning is an outward or public expression of thoughts and feelings regarding a loss.  Bereavement means to be torn apart or robbed, to be deprived of something or someone.  

Grief can be anticipatory, sudden or traumatic. Anticipatory grief is a normal response to an upcoming loss or death. With anticipatory loss, individuals have an opportunity to complete unfinished business. 

Sudden death or loss happens unexpectedly and there is no time to say goodbye or prepare for the death or loss. Sudden and violent deaths predispose survivors to the influence of both trauma and grief. Grief can be experienced from other losses, such as a loss of personal possessions or loss of job.

Death resulting from an accident, murder, suicide, or unknown cause can create complex grief reactions. There was no time to prepare for the event and the time of shock, disbelief, or denial may last longer. When the death is a matter of public record, distraction from the grief may occur. Investigation by authorities, feelings toward the persons responsible, and media reports may keep an individual from focusing on the need to grieve. 

The impact of grief

Grief impacts individuals differently and may cause physical, mental, emotional, social, or spiritual reactions. Physical reactions may manifest in changes in sleep patterns, changes in appetite, or fatigue. Loss may impact mentally by being unable to focus and concentration, or disorganization. At times, individuals may choose to isolate or withdraw from family and friends.  An array of emotions, loneliness, sadness, guilt, or the explosive emotions of anger, or blame may be experienced. Questions about faith or spirituality challenge the meaning, value, or purpose in life. Grief is about searching for meaning or making sense of the event.

Grieving is linked to the attachment, or the nature of the relationship with an individual; every individual grieves differently. Some people grieve openly while others experience grief in thoughts and actions. Various factors influence the extent, intensity, and the manner in with individuals grieve.  Those factors include, the personality of the deceased, the personality of the survivor, family of origin, cultural background, spiritual or religious background, circumstance surrounding the death, past experiences with death or loss, grieving style, the support system, and current stressors. 

Supporting those who grieve

Presence, listening to the stories and saying the name of the deceased lends support to one who is grieving. Presence is the act and intention of “being with” another individual, with full attention and engagement. When words are inadequate to express the emotions, a ritual or ceremony is a way to express oneself. A ritual maybe as simple as lighting a candle. Rituals surrounding the death are important for healing an emotional wound. 

Art, drawing, painting, sculpting, music, singing, playing an instrument, or writing lyrics are ways of expressing grief. Doug Manning says that grievers need three “H’s”, someone to hang around, someone to hush, not judge, and someone to hug.

Fay Green, MA, LPC, LMFT, FT, is an educator, licensed funeral director, a fellow in thanatology, and grief counselor has a master’s degree in education, thanatology, and counseling. For more than 15 years she has companioned individuals, children, or families dealing with grief and loss, including end-of-life issues, a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, or devastating losses such as murder or suicide. She has a private counseling practice in San Antonio, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Marriage Family therapist, and a member of the Fellowship of San Antonio.   

References:

Grollman, Earl.  (2000).  Living With Loss, Healing With Hope.  Boston, MA:  Beacon Press.

Rando, Therese A.  (1991).  How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies.  Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books.

Smith, Harold Ivan.  (2007).  A B C’s of Healthy Grieving:  A Companion for Everyday Coping. Notre Dame, IN:  Ave Maria Press.

Wolfelt, Alan D. (2010).  Understanding Your Grief:  Ten Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing.  Fort Collins, CO:  Companion Press.

Worden, J. William.  (2009).  Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy:  A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner.  New York:  Springer Publishing Company. 

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