Although we all know that death is a part (and ultimately the final chapter) of everyone’s life journey, that doesn’t make it any easier to bear.
Grief is normal when faced with this loss. And when you lose someone you love, cherish, and respect, the grief can be that much worse.
But what exactly does “normal” grief look like?
And how does understanding grief help you understand the process of recovery from a loss?
What Is Grief?
Dr. Alan Wolfelt has long studied grief and loss and written extensively on the subject. In his book Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart, he notes that grief is a much deeper and wider concept than what you may have imagined.
Yes, normal grief is a feeling, but it’s much more than just one feeling. The reality is that normal grief will encompass a complex interplay of feelings and emotions. For example, it can include anger, sadness, regret, and shock. Plus, “Numbness” may also be associated with grief. This is often used to describe a feeling of emptiness devoid of emotion. It’s important then to not discount or dismiss numbness, whether you are experiencing it or someone else.
Essentially, according to Wolfelt findings, grief is an experience that encompasses your entire being—both your feelings and your thoughts surrounding death and other behaviors connected to loss.
When you consider this, you begin to realize that there are many factors at play involving grief.
In fact, how you approach grief due to a loss will be based on the many experiences you have had in your life. These can include beliefs passed down from your parents, spiritual or religious influences, and also encountering death and loss in other areas of your life. So, when you face grief, it is from the perspective of all the influences and experiences that have helped shape your life.
Why Do We Experience Grief?
We experience grief because our minds are attempting to process the loss.
Have you ever heard of the phrase, “wrap your head around it”? Your mind is trying to do exactly that in regards to death and loss. One way this process occurs is when you recognize that the person you care about is no longer present. They have transitioned on, leaving a physical absence in your life.
Thus, as we grieve, we may:
- Remember the times that we enjoyed and treasured with our loved one
- Think about what happened before they passed away
- Wonder about what will happen next
All of these things and more are swirling around in our minds. It’s a lot to take in and can be both physically and emotionally draining.
Are There Physical Symptoms of Grief?
Yes, there are. That’s because your body will respond to the emotional distress brought on by the loss.
Some physical symptoms of grief include:
- Chest tightness
- Stomach problems
- Aches and pains
- Heart palpitations
What’s concerning is that we often ignore these physical symptoms.
Of course, it can be easy to dismiss them, especially when you are overwhelmed with feelings of grief. However, it’s important to pay attention to your body, acknowledge that you may be suffering physical symptoms of grief, and seek appropriate help.
What About Behavior and Grief?
When you grieve, it’s normal to behave in ways that you typically wouldn’t act.
For instance, many people cry when they feel grief. This might be embarrassing for some who struggle with outward displays of emotion. Plus, screaming or wailing are two other very public and outward emotions that for some might feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar.
Conversely, people are also known to isolate themselves when grieving.
In whichever way grief manifests, it’s important to note that all of these behaviors are normal for the grieving process.
So what, then, is normal grief?
The term really is a combination of feelings, beliefs, thoughts, physical symptoms, and behaviors. All of them are meant to help you process and absorb the loss that you have just experienced.
At times, this may occur at the sacrifice of what we consider “polite” or typical behavior. Yet, it’s important for you to have compassion for yourself and give yourself permission to fully embrace this journey.
In the end, though, if you are still having trouble processing your grief, it can be helpful to connect with a therapist who understands grief and loss. I’d be happy to help you through the process of recovering from your loss.