Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Grief

According to the US Census Bureau, there are now more than 52 million people in the USA who are over the age of 65, and that number will increase to over 70 million by 2030. Many of the Baby Boomer generation (usually defined as those born between 1946 and 1964) are now in their late 60s and early 70s, and the unhappy experience of losing a spouse or partner is going to be a reality for increasing numbers of Americans. The need for clear and practical information about grief has never been more urgent.

Grief is often shoved out of sight, but grief, no matter how painful, is important.

1) Grief is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. It’s how the body and mind deals with the death of a loved one. It helps the bereaved cope with the profound changes and trauma of the loss.

2) All losses aren’t equal for the simple reason that not all relationships are equal. Studies have shown that the most stressful event in a person’s life by far is the death of a life mate or a child. The closer the relationship, the more the survivor will grieve.

3) Grief does not come in neatly packaged stages. Grief for a life mate or child is more complicated and agonizing than any grief model can describe. Grief is not just emotional. It is also physical, spiritual, psychological, and affects all parts of the bereaved person’s life.

4) Tears are not a sign of weakness, but a way of relieving the stress of grief. Some scientists think that crying caused by grief is actually good for you. Biochemist Dr. William Frey says that people “may be removing, in their tears, chemicals that build up during emotional stress.”

5) Grief can manifest as illness, especially in those who cannot cry. If bereaved people find themselves frequently going to the doctor, they should mention their loss.

6) TV shows and movies often depict grieving as a process that lasts just a few weeks, but in reality fully adjusting to the loss of a partner or close family member often takes from three to five years.

7) Many bereaved people find that it is difficult to explain the emotions they feel and for their friends and family to understand. Being a good friend to someone who is bereaved involves showing patience, listening to them, and allowing them to grieve at their own pace without urging them to move on.

8) Upsurges of grief are common on anniversaries, such as the anniversary of the death. The body remembers even if the bereaved doesn’t, and this body memory accentuates the strong emotional impact of anniversaries. Understanding the process can help grievers and their loved get through these upsurges of sorrow.

9) Short-term memory problems, and a general inability to concentrate, are common effects of grief.  Making important decisions, such as whether to move to a new home, are often best delayed because of this.

10) Those who lost someone intrinsic to their lives, such as a life mate or child, can never go back to the way they were, but as grief wanes, they can go forward into a new life and eventual happiness.

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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

The Sorrow, Stress, and Solitariness of Grief

A friend asked me how long it took me not to cry every day after Jeff died. My first response was “months” because I didn’t want to freak her out with how long grief lasts, but when I realized that it was better to be forewarned, I told her the truth.

I don’t remember when I stopped crying every day, but I know it went on for years. In a way, it’s not as bad as it sounds. At the beginning I cried almost all the time, but as the months passed, even though I still cried every day, it was not as long or as often. Even years after Jeff died, I was still tearing up almost every day — not really crying, but not not-crying, either. Sometimes the tears came from missing him or loneliness or exhaustion or being around those who were still happily married. Other times, something happened to cause the upsurge of grief: a smell, a memory, something I read or saw.

Now, months go by without a tear, but then, I am not a new widow. I am used to his being gone, used to being alone, used to the void that remains somewhere deep inside.

Not everyone has that deep well of tears, but enough of us do that I know tears are a normal part of dealing with such a devastating loss. Losing a life mate ranks at the very top of stressful situations. On a scale of 1 to 100, the loss of a life mate or child tops all at 100. Divorce, the second worse stressor is 73.

Sorrow. Stress. Solitariness. Any one of those makes for a very rough time, but when they all come at once, as they do when one has suffered a profound loss, they create a near-impossible situation. No wonder tears are such a common occurrence after the loss of a spouse or soul mate or life mate.

Although none of us like to cry, and although we perceive tears to be a sign of weakness, tears are necessary to help us relieve the incredible stress of grief. What adds to an already stressful situation (not the least being that the one person we need to help us through our loss is the very person we are mourning) is the sporadic and chaotic nature of grief. We can be doing fine — fine meaning not tearful — when suddenly, we are overtaken by grief. When that bout of sorrow is over, we think we have a grip, and then we’re hit again with the realization of our loss, and there we are, back at the beginning.

Unsettled times such as this current world-wide crisis, as well as the enforced isolation, can make grief even worse since there is nothing to do to take one’s mind off the pain, nowhere to run to for a moment of solace.

But there are always tears. At the beginning, crying seemed to make me feel worse, but as time went by and I realized that there were worst things than crying — such as suffering the physical and mental effects of stress — I came to appreciate the relief. Later, I came to welcome any tears because they seemed to bridge the gap and make me feel closer to him, and if not to him, then to my grief.

And if there are no tears to relieve the sorrow, stress, and solitariness of grief? Then you can try screaming. That works, too.

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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.