Grief is typically associated with bereavement, but it can also be triggered by significant life events, such as loss of health, the end of a relationship, losing a pet, retirement, or job loss. Sometimes people experience ‘anticipatory grief’, which is the grief we feel before a bereavement, or when someone we love is seriously ill. The intense range of emotions felt when we experience grief can often affect us most profoundly and will affect each person differently. There is no right or wrong way to feel, and no timeframe for dealing with your loss.
Grief, although normal, can manifest in unexpected ways. Each person reacts differently, irrespective of whether that grief stems from the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, a relationship, or the diagnosis of a life-changing or limiting illness. Some people get angry, some withdraw into themselves, others feel completely numb. Some losses may be more difficult to talk about than others, such as those associated with suicide, or a traumatic incident.
The impact of grief on a person’s life is not always immediately noticeable. Sometimes people begin to struggle months or even years after the event. Sometimes they feel like they are stuck in grief when everyone else has seemingly moved on. And sometimes the heavy weight of prolonged grief can trigger mental health conditions, like depression. Keeping things bottled up or denying the sadness you feel, could prolong the pain of grief.
Acknowledging and talking about your loss, often helps you adjust to a new life, along with all its changes – good and bad. Counselling aims to help you find a place for your loss so you can carry on with life and eventually find acceptance.
Common signs of grief
Sadness and tears are not the only way in which grief is expressed. It can also appear as anger, guilt, confusion, yearning, or regret. Emotions can be expressed strongly, or with surprising mildness. Grief can shake everything up – your beliefs, your routines, and even your sense of normality. Your feelings can change from one moment to the next.
People in grief can bounce between different thoughts as they make sense of their loss. Thoughts can range from soothing (“she had a good life” or “his death was peaceful”) to troubling (“It wasn’t her time”, “If only he had said something earlier”). People may also assign themselves varying levels of responsibility, from “there was nothing I could have done,” to “I should have been there” or “it’s all my fault”.
Grieving behaviours also vary widely. Some people find comfort in sharing their feelings among company. Other people may prefer to be alone with their feelings, engaging in silent activities like exercising or writing.