Grief can be experienced through any change in life, even if it’s one we have consciously chosen to make. Well known examples of grief include the loss of a loved one through death, loss of a significant relationship, loss of a home (or significant damage), being made redundant or being injured in an accident, retirement or a decline in health. Grief can also be experience when losing a pet, having a miscarriage, changing countries, cities or schools, choosing to leave a relationship etc. The amount of grief experienced would usually equal the amount of significance we attach to that specific loss. The loss one person experiences cannot be compared to the loss and grief any other person experiences – even when the loss may appear to be insignificance to anyone else. The experience of loss and grief is unique and highly individualized to the person involved.
We grieve in different ways. Age, gender, personality, culture, background, value system, circumstances surrounding event/loss, past experiences with loss and personal growth all play an important role. With regards to a loss due to death in a family, the grieving process will even be different amongst members of the same family. This is because each person’s relationship with, and attachment to the deceased family member varies.
Therefore grief is neither an illness nor a pathological condition but rather a natural process that occurs over time. If managed and understood, grief has the potential to lead to life-changing healing and personal growth.
Each person’s pattern of progressing through grief will be unique and unpredictable with no set time frame. Understanding the grieving process and knowing what to expect can help us cope. When we understand what is happening to us and have some idea of what to expect, we can feel more in control of the grief we’re experiencing. We will be in a better position to take care of ourselves as we find a way through this loss and start rebuilding a meaningful life again.
Reactions to loss are as unique as the person experiencing them. Some phases may be re-experienced again and again. It is also possible to get stuck in a phase. This is where therapy is particularly useful. Grief counseling becomes necessary when a person is so disabled by their grief, overwhelmed by loss to the extent that their normal coping processes are disabled or shut down. Grief counseling facilitates expression of emotion and thought about the loss, including sadness, anxiety, anger, loneliness, guilt, relief, isolation, confusion, or numbness. So many times people feel disorganized, tired, have trouble concentrating, sleep poorly, have vivid dreams and experience change in appetite. These too are addressed in counseling.
The Kübler-Ross model presents grief as a five stage process. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross spent decades researching death and dying and although her model focuses on loss through death it is applicable to all forms of loss.