What is Grief?
The word “grief” is the simple shorthand we use for what is actually a highly complex mixture of thoughts and feelings. Grief is everything we think and feel inside after someone we love dies or leaves or something we are attached to goes away. In other words, grief is the instinctive human response to loss.
Grief is natural and necessary. Our culture tends to deny, diminish, and judge the pain of grief, but the truth is that grief is not something to be afraid of, hide from, or think of as “bad” or “weak.” It is not an illness or mental-health problem. If you are grieving, rest assured that what you are experiencing is not only normal, it is the very thing that will help you heal.
Grief: The Counterpart to Love
Grief is not something we choose or don’t choose. Rather, it is in our wiring. It is the normal and necessary journey we embark on after something we have valued no longer exists.
- If someone we love dies, we grieve.
- If a beloved pet dies, we grieve.
- If someone we love leaves us, we grieve.
- If something we value is taken away from us, we grieve.
- If circumstances we were comfortable with or attached to change, we grieve.
- In general, the stronger our attachment to the person or the thing, the stronger our grief will be.
You see, love and grief are two sides of the same precious coin. One does not—and cannot—exist without the other. They are the yin and yang of our lives. People sometimes say that grief is the price we pay for the joy of having loved. If we allow ourselves the grace of love, we must also allow ourselves the grace of grief and mourning.
Grief vs. Mourning
If grief is what we think and feel inside, what is mourning? Mourning is the outward expression of our grief.
Mourning is crying, talking about the loss, journaling, sharing memories, and telling stories. Other ways to mourn include praying, making things, joining in ceremonies, and participating in support groups. Mourning is how, over time, we begin to heal. It is through active and honest mourning that we reconstruct hope and meaning in our lives.
The Six Needs of Mourning
During our journey through grief and mourning, we all encounter six needs we must meet if we are to heal:
- Acknowledge the reality of the death.
- Embrace the pain of the loss.
- Remember the person who died.
- Develop a new self-identity.
- Search for meaning.
- Receive support from others.
To learn more about the six needs of mourning, we invite you to read this article.
Reconciling Our Grief
We’re sure you understand by now that love never ends. We continue to love those who have died. Because grief is love’s twin, grief never ends either.
We don’t “recover from” or “get over” grief. Instead, we become reconciled to it. We learn to live with it and integrate it into our continued living. We come to reconciliation in our grief journeys when the full reality of the loss becomes a part of us. Healing is not returning to an old normal but rather creating a new normal.
Our grief does soften, however. It we explore, embrace, and express it along the way, it eventually becomes less painful. The more actively we grieve, mourn, and meet our six needs of mourning, the more likely we are to live the rest of our days with meaning, love, and joy.
There is darkness and pain in grief, but there is also hope. We have loved, and we must now muster the courage to mourn.