Grief is your natural response to loss. Grief isn’t something you choose to experience; it just happens. Everyone’s grief looks different. You and someone else in your family may experience the same loss, but chances are, you’ll grieve differently. And you will grieve differently from one day to the next, or from one minute to the next.
Grief is a response to any loss. That might mean a loss of a loved one through death. But it might also mean losing your health, your physical ability, your job, or a beloved pet. Loss could mean divorce, miscarriage, infertility, moving, or being deployed. Loss happens in the context of sad events, such a death or a separation, but it also happens in the context of happy life events. For instance, new parents experience many losses while also rejoicing in the birth of their child: loss of freedoms, loss adult conversation, loss of the life they had as a couple. Feeling that loss does not mean you are depressed or secretly unhappy. It just means that life is sometimes complicated, and some experiences are both happy and sad.
Grief can feel like sadness. It can also feel like a zillion other things: anger, betrayal, loneliness, fear. You might feel grief as emotions. You might cry and know that you are sad. You might also feel grief physically. You might feel a knot in your stomach. Your heart might race. You might feel tired or have a headache. You might feel everything all at once, and feel mad/sad/crazy and just want to scream. You may feel like you’re just drowning and overwhelmed. Or you might feel…nothing. You might just feel … Sometimes grief just feels numb.
Well-meaning people will say lots of unhelpful things to you when you’re grieving. There is no right way to grieve. Many people cry, some scream, some stomp their feet. But other people sit quietly. Others run. They draw, paint, and write poetry. They sculpt. They hug a close friend. They want to be alone. You may want to talk. You may not want to talk. You may want to talk one minute and then change your mind. That’s ok. You may have no idea what you need. In that case, talking to a chaplain might be helpful. Chaplains or another trusted counselor can hear where you are, and may hear things you can’t; they may be able to help you develop strategies that work for you.
The loss that caused you to grieve isn’t going to go away. Likewise, your grief isn’t something that’s just going to go away. It’s not something wrong with you that needs to get fixed. But it will change, over time. The intense crazy feeling won’t last forever. You may find it helpful to journal or talk with a chaplain or counselor periodically. That way you can reflect on the ways you have changed, and the ways your grief has changed. These changes are normal, and not feeling overwhelmed does not mean you have stopped grieving, nor stopped loving the person you lost. It only means that you are adjusting to a new normal – to a world that has been forever changed.
Grieving a loss is never easy, but sometimes, it’s just…complicated. It might be complicated because your relationship to the person who died was complicated – maybe you have fond memories from your childhood but more recent painful memories both of which are now swimming around in your head. Maybe there were things unsaid between you, or things you wish could be unsaid. Maybe the loss itself was particularly traumatic, sudden, or, well, complicated. Maybe this loss is just one in a string of tragedies threatening to overwhelm you. There are a million reasons why this could be a complicated experience for you, and none of them mean there’s anything wrong with you. But now, more than ever, might be a good time to call a chaplain. When life gets complicated, you deserve to have a team of folks around you, helping you navigate it all.
When you grieve, you will undoubtedly also mourn. Mourning is the action – all the ways in which we give voice to our grief. And we learn how to mourn by those around us – our families, our faith communities, our ethnic groups. This means emotive expressions like crying and wailing, for some. But it also means public acts like attending funerals, making shiva calls, visiting cemeteries, hanging black drapes, or wearing black clothes. Participating in mourning rituals does not make your grief go away, but it does give it a voice. It gives it a name, and a place in the world. Sometimes, though, your grief doesn’t have a voice. The word for this is disenfranchisement.