What is Grief?
Grief is not unusual for us to witness or experience then why don’t we seem to process it quickly and move on? We have been taught the circle of life and know that death or separation is inevitable then why does our heartache when it eventually unfolds?
After watching “The Lion King” for the zillionth time, we know that Mufasa’s death is inevitable, yet we shed tears every time we watch a rerun. Just like the other emotions in our life, grief also holds an important place. Even more so given that it is inevitable and one might have to face it sooner or later.
The term grief sounds heavy. Doesn’t it? When the word in itself can be so difficult to digest, dealing with that grief isn’t easy either. But it is not impossible. Everybody has their graph of dealing with grief.
Few may overcome it immediately. Few may take a couple of weeks or months, and few can also take some years. As per the guidelines of the American Psychological Association, grief can range anywhere between 6 months to 2 years.
Did you know that people can experience various types of grief? In our lifetime, we are susceptible to witnessing more than one type of grief. Though usually related to losing a person or undergoing a catastrophe. They might not be the lone contributors to grief.
Before we understand the types of grief, let us familiarise ourselves with what grief is and how it unfolds.
According to the technical definition, grief can be explained as the response to loss, particularly a loss of a loved one who may have contributed heavily to building a person’s identity. Therefore grief and loss go hand-in-hand.
However, we need to know that even though it is the most commonly experienced form of grief, it does not need to be caused solely by the death of an important person. Grief cannot be recorded in percentage to analyse and identify the intensity or severity. It can sometimes be accompanied by secondary losses as well.
Some may start experiencing grief a while after the loss/event has elapsed. This is normal if the individual goes through what we know as “dissociation”.
Soon after the period lapses, he may be hit by a thunderbolt of emotions, memories, and prolonged longing and confusion. During this time, they may seek professional help if the pain becomes unbearable.
Grief can be experienced when an individual goes through an event/ situation which can alter his identity. For example, a person who has recently experienced a divorce or has ended a long-term relationship.
Here they have not lost the person in the physical realm but are distanced from them due to conscious choices and circumstances. The loss here is more cognitive and emotional, which makes the person restructure their life without their significant other. This, as you can imagine, is taxing, exhausting, and life-altering!
How does grief manifest itself?
Below listed are a few commonly reported indicators of grief. I consciously refrain from using the word “symptoms” since skimming through an article can only lead to self-diagnosis, which can be detrimental for your mental health.
But if you resonate with the list below, kindly consider professional help.
- Constant longing and yearning for the deceased person
- Preoccupation with thoughts or memories.
- Loss of purpose in life.
- Inattention or marked reduction in focus.
- Denial of your loss
- Emotional numbness (Absence or reduction in emotional experience)
- Intense loneliness
- Difficulty to reintegrate into one’s relationships and activities.
- Outbursts of emotions
- Identity disruption.
Types of Grief
It happens when there is an absolute void of grief in response to a considerable loss. It is more likely to occur when the loss is too sudden. There is profound denial and shock. It needs to be addressed professionally if it extends for an abnormally long period.
The ones going through absent grief are the ones who may be undergoing a whirlpool of intense emotions within but can rarely show any on the outside. They have a tough time putting their feelings into words.
This type of grief occurs when there is an anticipation of the loss—commonly seen when a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness, a suspected layoff, or divorce in progress. This type of grief can bring intense guilt, resentment, and anger.
Hence this is to be handled with care. In cases of patients who are terminally ill where the curative care has been suspended, one can consider palliative care for the person and the family.
This is another type of grief in which the person is faced with a double-edged sword! In other words, they experience conflicting feelings. They do not know if they can feel relieved about the deceased’s departure or mourn their loss. For example, the death of an abusive partner, the end of a toxic relationship, or the termination of a very cold and pompous superior.
This type of grief builds over time and is caused by the accumulation of several losses successively within a short period. This usually causes fatigue, burnout, and anxiousness about the prevailing uncertainty.
This type of grief is short-lived. People who experience this are known to move on quickly from their loss. They are strongly urged to fill up the void created due to an impending failure. They seek alternatives or substitutes for the departed.
They might not be maladjusted or delusional, but people who experience this, process the reality rather quickly. They are often seen sublimating. For example: Handling rejections, unexpected layoffs, death of a close one.
Ayan Sanger from the movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil did not move on quickly, but he sure did transform his longing and pain of separation into soulful melodies!
This is the type of Grief where the loss is seen as small by others or is less culturally significant. Here the individual feels that society has denied the permission, need, and capacity to grieve the loss.
Examples: Loss of a pet, death by suicide, death by substance abuse/ overdose, and miscarriage. It can also include separation from a classmate or a close friend due to relocation.
This reaction to grief is usually seen when someone does not outwardly express grief. They keep themselves preoccupied and avoid conversations about the loss.
They are likely to show physical symptoms of Grief, such as poor appetite, sleep, body aches, and palpitations when confronted with the topic. The intensity, severity, and duration of these symptoms vary from person to person.
Grief and loss can be manifested physically as well. Some of those manifestations are:
- Insomnia/ Hypersomnia
- Poor immune system
- Overeating/binge eating/ stress eating
- Under eating
- Frequent aches
How can you support someone going through grief?
Be an active listener: Try to be present and don’t rush to give your analysis of the situation or opinions. Let them vent out. You can say that you care and regret their loss.
Indulging in Art: Making collages/collecting memoirs of the lost soul and recounting the happy and good memories helps a person to feel light.
Offer help: Try to extend your support by dividing the chores. It can be as simple as providing them with home cooked meals, carpooling to work, and keeping them company during chai time.
Helplines/ referrals: Help them with contacts of psychologists/grief therapists, whom they can reach out to if required.
Outdoor indulgence: Planning day/night outs and allowing them to come out of their shell slowly and steadily helps! Morning walks, jogs, night cycling, a visit to the beach or museum, or anything that remotely cheers them up while being mindful about the boundary goes a long way in the healing process.
As mentioned earlier in the text, grief is universal and can be experienced differently by each of us. Everybody has a different and unique coping mechanism.
So, the next time try not to be too hard on yourself, primarily when you cannot console a dear friend. Remember that silence goes a long way.
If you cannot share your condolences immediately, give it some time, you will come around! You don’t need to throw yourself under the bus and regret it later.