What is Grief?

Grief Can Often Be Felt Physically, Emotionally and Spiritually

Grief is a normal and natural response to death. It is a complex process that is adaptive in nature. Typically grief affects our cognitive processes, taxes our emotions and can challenge our spiritual understandings. Our social lives often change and grief can be felt within our physical body.

Anticipatory grief

You may begin to experience anticipatory grief when you face the threat of a loss.

Anticipatory grief involves grieving the losses you’ve already experienced, along with adjusting to your current situation. It is common to imagine the future as a way of rehearsing the possibilities that exist and their impact on you.

The effects of loss are experienced in multiple areas including financial, social, personal, familial, and spiritual. This can also be a time when old unresolved issues within the family reemerge, which can be disruptive in the short run, but ultimately allows the family the opportunity to come to resolution and perhaps reconciliation. Anticipatory grief, although demanding, can be helpful. It may ask you to think of circumstances you’d prefer not to in order to better prepare yourself for life’s probabilities.

Usually roles and responsibilities within the family shift as care needs increase. Hospice patients often express concern that they do not want to be a burden to their families, while families want their loved one to receive optimal care with the best quality of life possible in the time remaining.

Since grief and caregiving take an enormous amount of energy, fatigue is also common. These are normal and natural reactions to an impending loss. Some families use their internal and external resources to navigate through these times while others prefer assistance.

Signs and symptoms of grief after the loss of a loved one

Grief is inextricably tied to love and generally speaking, the closer we are to the person who has died, the more distress we experience in bereavement.

Remember that grief is normal so although the word symptom is used above, a better word would be manifestations of grief given that grief is not a disease.

  • People who experience a loss often report feelings of loneliness, yearning for the deceased and sadness. They may experience disturbing feelings of guilt, relief or anger.
  • It is common to experience some interruptions in concentration and focus. This usually resolves itself within the first couple of months following a loss.
  • Many people tend to notice some changes in their social relationships and, at least initially, in their eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Often too, grief is felt as discomfort in the body. Some people complain of muscle tension that can bring on headaches, others notice disruptions in their stomachs, while others complain of feeling pain in their heart, as if it is actually breaking. Please let your health care provider know about these complaints.

Grief itself is demanding and can be very exhausting. It’s important to seek support from someone you trust, such as a family member, friend, spiritual counselor or a Scripps Bereavement Program counselor.

It is important during any stressful time to keep yourself buoyed up by attending to your basic needs such as getting enough sleep, eating nutritiously and healthfully, connecting with those people who matter to you, and living in an environment that is supportive to your well-being. This is especially true given the demands of grief.

If it becomes too hard to care for yourself, please consider asking for help. Sometimes the pain of grief causes people to turn to excessive alcohol or drug use, or other unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to block out the pain.

If you have pre-existing or co-occurring clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, grief can be especially taxing. If after at least six months after the death of your loved one, the grief is overwhelming and preventing you from being functional in a least one major area of your life, it may be a sign of a more serious illness such as complicated grief or major depressive disorder. Medication and therapy may be helpful in these circumstances.

Seek the help and support of others

Scripps Bereavement Program provides counseling services. Complimentary services include: