Grief is a natural, necessary and therapeutic reaction to loss. According to the National Mental Health Association, some 8 million Americans suffer through the death of someone in their immediate family each year. Of those survivors, about 400,000 are younger than 25, and about 800,000 are new widows or widowers.
Grief also can come after other kinds of losses, including getting divorced, losing a beloved pet, losing your job, losing your independence or saying goodbye to grown children as they venture off to college. What all these situations have in common is change - you have lost something so significant that aspects of your life are forever altered. You may never fully get over your grief, but you will eventually come to terms with it. You may even grow stronger emotionally through the grief process. For example, some people bring meaning to their loss by becoming involved in worthy causes. Grief can make you more empathetic, an attribute that can foster richer relationships.
In the first month after a loss, so much is done for the person in grief that they may not remember who did what when. The person is in shock, in a 'robot mode' which helps get them through the things they need to do in those early weeks. But, at some point, reality hits. Their loved one is dead, and they must face life without them. This is when the person in grief really needs help. But by then, other people have often gotten back to their own lives and forget the person who is just starting their intense grief period.
Observers may presume that the bereaved is "doing well" when in fact they haven't been able even to feel the impact of the loss yet. The person may be grappling with more immediate concerns, such as loneliness, finances or children, which are keeping their focus away from their grief. But efforts to get one's mind off grief may only encourage a prolonged period of adjustment or a delayed grief reaction, sometimes years later.
While grief is universal, no grief experience is exactly like another. Beyond individual differences, every human relationship is unique. Therefore your reaction to the death of your father can be different than your reaction to the death of your mother. And your sibling's reaction to the identical loss can be different than yours. Circumstances surrounding your loved one's death also can have an impact on how you grieve. Your personality, gender, age, religion, ethnicity and cultural background, coping skills, health status and job situation are other factors that may influence your grief reaction.
To further complicate the picture, your grief reaction can manifest differently in different settings. You may have trouble concentrating at work and snap at your spouse at home.
Don't let anyone tell you how you "should" feel or behave after a loss. And don't put pressure on yourself to conform to anyone's preconceived notions of what grief is. Try to be accepting and nonjudgmental of your particular grieving style. Short of destructive behavior, any way you grieve is the best way for you.
Updated on 06/06/2008
- Hospice Foundation of America