Seven Things Everyone Needs to Know About Grief

1) Grief belongs to the griever. It’s no one else’s responsibility. No one should tell a griever how to grieve, when to grieve, or how long to grieve. No one can bind grief or limit it, usually not even the griever.

2) All losses aren’t equal for the simple reason that not all relationships are equal. The more deeply committed the relationship, the more roles a person played in your life, the more you will grieve.

3) Grief for a life mate takes much longer than everyone assumes that it does. Many people find a sense of renewed interest in life or at least a sense of peace between three and five years, and even afterward, they can experience grief upsurges.

4) The most stressful event in a person’s life by far is the death of a life mate or a child. Such a loss is so devastating that the survivor’s death rate increases by a minimum of 25% percent.

5) Grief is normal. The whole chaotic mess of new grief, no matter how insanely painful, is normal. Whatever a person does to help get through the shock and horror of losing a life mate or a child is normal.

6) Grief is physical, too. People often tell the bereaved to put the deceased out of our minds (at the same time they tell them that the deceased will always live in their hearts), but that’s hard to do because grief is also in our bodies.

7) Anger is an effect of grief. It is not a stage of grief, not a complication, but an intrinsic part of the process. In fact, we don’t need to be angry at someone or something to feel anger as part of grief. It is the body’s natural response to a perceived danger.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

4 Responses to “Seven Things Everyone Needs to Know About Grief”

  1. Estragon Says:

    Your post yesterday got me thinking about a t-shirt I sometimes wear. It has two cartoon aliens looking up at the sky. An adult alien says to a child one “This is the void. We call it the void, not because it is empty, but because we don’t know what it’s full of”. Sort of like an ordinary day in which “nothing” happens?

    That got me thinking about the difference between “null” (and/or void), and zero (often thought of as a synonym for null). Zero is pretty clear. It’s the total absence of a given thing (implicitly, at a given time and place). “Yes, we have no bananas” = zero bananas. In stats and computer programming, null isn’t so clear. In stats, the null hypothesis would be we have no bananas, but we’re looking for evidence that we do. The null hypothesis holds unless/until proven otherwise. In the meantime, we don’t know. Finding bananas proves the null hypothesis false. Not finding bananas doesn’t mean the null hypothesis (zero bananas) is true, just that we still don’t know. In computing, a null pointer could be anything – it’s undefined, and the pointed-to object can change based on things going on outside the scope of the running code.

    That in turn got me thinking about my late wife’s recent birthday. She, of course, (probably) isn’t getting any older. To us though, a year has passed since her last birthday. This makes me wonder about the void she’s in, and what it’s full of. Does time for her slow down or become non-linear? Can she go back and forth in her living days to spend “time” in the happiest ones?

    Her void, at least for us, and until our time comes, remains a null. It could be zero, but we don’t really know.

    My void is also a sort of null, full of undefined unknowns. In time, I suppose more of it will become defined. Grief is also really confusing.

    Just random musings on an uneventful (so far) day.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      That’s fascinating about the difference between null and zero. Oddly, I’d been thinking about this in a different matter: the Robot Tarot has a suit called “nulli” (null, nothing, the void), which stands for permanent balance (equilibrium), the seasonal balances and the eternal fluctuation of the galaxies.

      Heraclitus said, “Nothing is born and nothing dies, but everything becomes.” Perhaps the dead are still becoming, though there’s no idea what they are becoming — pure unconscious energy? Pure consciousness? Merely memory?

      It’s those unknowable questions, as well as thousands of others that make grief so confusing. Even today, when the pain is gone, when the nostalgia is dimming, when even the memories are fading, what I am left with is confusion about dying, death, grief, the void, and all the rest of it.

  2. Uthayanan Says:

    Beautiful points to ponder. Well written.
    I am not well with grief.
    I ty to work with 6) and 7)
    Anger with my self to continue to live.
    I try to learn better to survival.
    As Estragon said Grief is also really confusing.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      There’s nothing much you can do about #6 except try to take care of yourself. As for #7, anger, try to just let it flow. Don’t try to ascribe any sort of meaning to it; don’t try to put a reason to it. Just feel it and let it go.

      And yes, grief is confusing. It’s one of the things that made me write about it and try to figure out why we feel what we do; I don’t do well living in confusion.

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