As humans, we all experience various losses across our lifespan. Some of these losses include the death of a loved one, the death of a pet, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, or the loss of an addiction. With significant loss comes grief. We can describe grief as the experience and the reaction of someone who has lost something of great importance. This grief is composed of thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and physical sensations that vary in pattern and intensity across the lifespan. Grief is also experienced uniquely based upon the individual and their personal relationship to the loss.
During grief, a period of mourning will typically occur. Mourning can be described as the process an individual goes through in adapting to the loss. The process of mourning takes place until an individual is able to restore overall daily functioning. Grief can be thought of as one’s experience after a loss, while mourning can be thought of as the process one goes through as they learn to adapt to the loss.
An individual who is navigating through a typical grief reaction will experience various thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and physical sensations. Common thought patterns include disbelief, confusion, preoccupation and obsessive thoughts about the loss, a sense of presence if the loss included death, and hallucinations. Typical feelings experienced during grief include sadness, anger, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, relief, and numbness. These feelings should fluctuate frequently and eventually lessen in intensity as the grieving process continues. Common behaviors one might experience during grief include sleep disturbances, eating disturbances, distracted or absent-minded behavior, social withdrawal, crying, avoiding reminders of the loss, or visiting places that do remind you of the loss. Finally, physical sensations can include a hollowness in the stomach, tightness in the chest or throat, oversensitivity to noise, breathlessness, lack of energy, dry mouth, and a sense of depersonalization.
Verbalizing and processing these four categories of reactions to grief is an important component in the grieving process. Instead of minimizing or numbing the pain of the loss, it is important to address the pain. Once the pain is addressed, an individual can begin adjusting to a world after the loss. Jan Glidewell once said, “you can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” This quote is a reminder that the past must be addressed and processed to ensure the present and future can be enjoyed to its fullest potential.