Grief is the complex emotional response to loss. It is the price paid for love – for when people lose that which they love, they grieve. It is normal to react in this way, but that doesn’t make it easy. In fact, the attitudes of other people often make grieving a very painful, lonely and difficult experience. Yet it is through grieving that healing and growth can come.
It is the process by which people free themselves from the pain of loss to eventually find a new peace, new hope or new love. There are ways in which a person can try to avoid the pain of grief, but this may mean the healing of the wounds is retarded.
Although each experience of grief is different (as is each person and each life), certain elements tend to occur. The first reaction to the news of a death is often the refusal to believe – “No, it can’t be true!” is a common response. As the reality of the loss sinks in more, there is usually a whirl of confused emotions and reactions. One very common feeling is anger. Anger is an emotion that many find hard to admit having, and even harder to express openly. It tends to be displaced and to erupt on innocent friends and family. Those close to a grieving person can help by allowing the anger of grief to be expressed. To talk and be heard is an important need of a grieving person.
Another common reaction to grief is guilt. Human beings never love perfectly and are never perfectly loved, so there is often anger and guilt over the failures in a relationship as well as over the death itself.
Sadness and mourning make up a large part of grief. The person feels sad for the loss of what was so dear to them. They go over the past relationship in their mind and gradually adjust to the fact that all the things they did with that person, they will now do alone or with someone else. People grieve also for the future – for all the plans made that will not be fulfilled, for the dreams that will never be.
There are many other aspects of grief. People will come to a death experience out of the context of their own life story, a story that is unique, and a story influenced by experiences, attitudes, beliefs, personality, relationships, etc.
One assumption often made is that grieving people should recover from their grief very soon after the funeral. However grieving often is a long process. Aspects of the grief may be intense for many months, and perhaps for years afterwards various events, occasions, and experiences will cause the grief to surface again. Grief is a functional and necessary human experience that can be a constructive force within the growth of a human being.