7 Things You Must Know About Grief

From the onset here, I want you to understand a basic tenet of grief:

We’re ill-prepared to deal with loss.
 
What do I mean by this statement?
 
Well, what I mean is…
 
We’re never really taught how to grieve.
 
Instead, those around us simply offer faulty bromides.
 
We’re not assigning blame to them; they don’t know any better, as they, themselves, have never been taught how to properly grieve.
 
But, while we’re incessantly taught how to acquire things in life—money, jobs, degrees, mates, etc.—
 

We’re never actually taught what to do when we lose things.

  • Not in school.
  • Not in the workplace.
  • Not at the dinner table.
  • Not in a weekend seminar.

And when you acknowledge this fact…
 
When you understand all that you’re being told is defective…
 
That it’s all tired & flawed…
 
You open yourself to real healing. 🙂
 
With this in mind…
 
Here are seven things you MUST know about grief and grieving.
 
 

7 Things You MUST Know About Grief

 


1.) Grief is not an
intellectual experience.

 
It’s an emotional experience.
 
You can intellectualize it all you want, but real grief healing only begins…
 
When you accept it as a matter of heart and not a matter of mind.
 
With that said…
 
 

2.) Everything you feel is normal.

 
All grief is unique.
 
It’s personal.
 
It’s unstructured.
 
It’s unscripted.
 
It belongs solely to the griever.
 
There’s no right way to experience grief.
 
There’s no wrong way to experience grief.
 
Everything you feel is…
 

Normal.

  • Anger
  • Regret
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Heartbreak
  • Loneliness
  • Fear
  • Confusion
  • Longing
  • Irritation
  • Disbelief
  • Emptiness
  • Perhaps even relief

Whatever emotion you feel…
 
It’s normal.
 
This is your grief. Your experience. Your rules.
 
Your emotions.
 
Feel them!
 
 

3.) Sometimes it’s not you but them.

 
You know you have to take responsibility for your own stuff. That’s why you’re here, really. You’re in search of solutions and healing.
 
But sometimes, it just isn’t on you; it’s that friend or family member’s issue.
 
You know how it goes: You’re opening up to a friend about your loss and pain, thinking, This is really healing…then BAM! She darts to another subject and closes the door on all that release!
 
Or, just as bad, the same friend doesn’t dart to another subject but instead says, “I know how you feel,” then proceeds to tell you all about her loss and pain…
Leaving you to merely stuff all that you were about to share.
 
Unfortunately, both the aforementioned scenarios are common for the grieving.
 
But we must remember, we’re never at fault for wanting to talk about our feelings in the wake of loss—for wanting to “sort through” those feelings out loud, in the company of a confidant.
 
Again, it’s not you in this case; it’s them.
 
 

4.) Grief doesn’t resolve itself.

 
We’re so often sold a bill of goods that “time always heals” and that you must endure “the 5 stages” to heal our grief.
 
In truth, nothing could be further from the truth.
 
Grief does not heal itself.
 
And the “5 Stages” are largely a myth. (I’ll elaborate on this point in a bit.)
Unresolved grief simply festers…
 
And burrows its way deep into our subconscious…
 
Causing us a multitude of psychological and physical issues going forward.
 
Grief must be addressed head on, preferably via therapeutic-grade means…
 
If it’s not to harm us long-term.
 
Again, grief does not heal itself.
 
You must actively work to heal your grief.
 
 

5.) The 5 Stages of Grief” are a myth.

 
In 1969, Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross—with the publishing of her book, On Death and Dying—established what’s now known as “the 5 stages of grief.”
 
Since then, those “5 stages” have become ingrained in our collective psyche.
 

When we lose someone, we must prepare to ride a roller coaster through…

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

The problem here?
 
The research data Kubler-Ross examined wasn’t collected from those grieving the loss of a loved one.
 
No.
 
Instead, it pertained to the emotional journey of those diagnosed with a terminal illness of their own.
 
Big difference, ya know?
 
So, let’s examine why the 5-stages are a rather absurd model for grief.
 
 
Denial
 
You’re grieving, correct? That’s why you’re here.
 
This means, you’re not denying the death…or the situation.
 
Enough said.
 
 
Anger
 
Not everyone experiences anger during bereavement. I know I rarely do.
 
In fact, as I write this, I’m two weeks into a grief cycle of my own, after the death of my beloved puggle, Moose. Sure, I feel a boatload of heartache. But I experience no anger whatsoever.
 
Nor will I ever while grieving him.
 
Although anger can be involved with the grief over a loved one—due to a tragic death or a strained relationship or the “no last word” circumstances often associated with sudden death—
 
Anger is not a mandatory component of grief.
 
In fact, more times than not, anger is nowhere to be found in the grieving.
 
 
Bargaining
 
The “bargaining stage” is defined as a defense mechanism against feelings of helplessness when people struggle to accept the “reality of the loss.”
 
As we state in the Acceptance portion down below…
 
You obviously don’t have any issue “accepting” your loss if you’re here…looking to heal your grief.
 
Thus, there’s absolutely no need for you to partake in “bargaining” of any sort.
 
Make sense?
 
 
Depression
 
One challenging issue regarding grief healing is that many of its symptoms mimic those of depression.
 
Meaning, it’s oftentimes approached, by a therapist, as depression.
Yet, grief is its own, unique emotional state.
 
That’s right: it’s an emotional state.
 
Grief is not a frame of mind. It’s not a series of steps.
 
And it sure as hell isn’t a journey through some collection of intellectual stages.
It’s a unique emotional state.
 
And, as you can imagine, when it’s treated from an intellectual angle…
Or, treated like depression…
 
It’s not really being “treated” at all.
 
 
Acceptance
 
Obviously, you already accept the situation. 
 
If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be grieving.
 
Get it?
 
Acceptance is not the same as recovery or healing. It’s simply acceptance.
 
 
Time to Let the “5 Stages” Die
 
The biggest issue with the 5-stage model?
 
It hinders your actual recovery by keeping you confined by, and stuck in, sticky & fallacy-riddled cliche.
 
In truth, there are no stages of grief; all grief is unique.
 
However, people often try to fit themselves into a defined category, if one is offered to them. Unfortunately, this is particularly true if that category is supplied by a powerful authority figure, such as a therapist, doctor, or clergy person.
 
What does research say about the 5-stage model?
 
 
 

6.) There are 6 primary responses to grief.

 
So, if the “5 Stages of Grief” are pretty much nonsense…
 
Are there any authentically “common responses” to grief?
 

Sure there are:

  1. Reduced concentration
  2. Preoccupation with the loss
  3. Sense of numbness
  4. Disrupted sleeping patterns
  5. Change in eating habits
  6. Feeling fatigued

Each of these experiences is a common, normal, and natural reaction to loss.
 
 

7.) Grief can destroy your health.

 

So, one horrible issue with grief is the toll it can take on your physical health.

True, death-grief never really “goes away.”
 
But it can be healed—it can be resolved.
 
And, truth be told, it’s best for your long-term health if you do effectively resolve and “complete” your grief.
 
With that in mind, let’s take a look at four evidence-based issues unresolved grief can cause.
 
 
a.) Unresolved grief can increase the risk of heart disease.
 
Grief can cause chest pains and an irregular heartbeat. In fact, grief is often associated with Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome,” where symptoms mimic a mild heart attack.
 
Not so coincidentally, research finds that, left unresolved, grief can lead to…
 
 
 
b.) Unresolved grief can increase stroke risk.
 
Along much the same lines as the aforementioned risk…
 
Another nasty side-effect of grief is that it may increase blood pressure.
 
And hypertension (aka “high blood pressure”) can lead to several health issues.
 
Including stroke.
 
In fact, a literature review published in the peer-reviewed journal Acta Neurologica Scandinavica finds that unresolved grief does indeed increase your risk of stroke.
 
 
c.) Unresolved grief can cause autoimmune issues.
 
Believe it or not, as you navigate death-grief…
 
Your immune system takes a beating.
 
And, like anything else physical…
 
If we don’t heal the cause (the grief), the situation will, most likely, only worsen.
 
What’s this mean?
 
Well, research finds that if you’re grieving, and you’re experiencing immune issues—like an increased sensitivity to certain medications and/or vaccinations, as well as systemic inflammation—unresolved grief may contribute to an underlying autoimmune issue going forward.
 
 
d.) Unresolved grief can cause cognitive decline.
 
In addition, unresolved grief can cause cognitive decline.
 
Which leads to a sharply diminished quality of life.
 
 
 
Quick Summary
 
These are just a few of the physical issues that may occur while living with unresolved grief.
 
What’s the lesson here?
 
I don’t know that there’s a “lesson,” per se.
 
Instead, I think research suggests that taking a therapeutic-grade approach to healing your grief may indeed be beneficial to your long-term health, both mentally and physically.
 
 

In Conclusion

 
There you have it: 7 Things You Must Know About Grief.
 
I hope this overview has opened your eyes a bit.
 
If you’re interested in resolving your grief…
 
And doing so the right way…
 
With a professional that specializes in grief…
 
 
Otherwise…
 
Take Care.
 
 
Nelson Pahl, Ph.D.