The best definition of grief that I have found to date is that “grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind.” I like this definition because generally speaking when one talks about grief, it is related to the death of someone or loss of something (i.e. loss of marriage through divorce). Of course it makes sense then that grief encompasses a lot of different feelings and causes great angst in people.
When you first lose that person or thing you feel that your grief is overwhelming, even debilitating. Sometimes people feel incapable of functioning in day to day life, they want to sleep a lot and can experience bouts of deep depression. Others feel anxious and unable to face the future. Grief related feelings can manifest themselves in many ways, often resulting in new or increased sleep issues, depression, panic attacks, social isolation, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.
Most of us have heard of “The Five Stages of Grief” as identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Rarely does anyone go through these stages in a succinct order. The way most people encounter grief is that it hits them when they least expect it. It happens when they see something that reminds them of the person or thing, or they smell something that might remind them of their loved one (i.e., grandmother’s cookies). It could be a song that they sang together or a place that they vacationed. And this is why grief is so tricky, because it is very unpredictable.
We have all heard the expression that “time heals all wounds.” I do not particularly ascribe to that philosophy. I think that time does help minimize the feelings of grief and that you can learn survival techniques and coping methods, but there is always a scar there. The depth of that scar is a testament to the loss and the healing that has happened thus far.
That is where counseling can be so beneficial! It helps to have a caring, objective professional to guide us through the processing and healing of those scars and wounds. Someone to help us navigate the societal pressures telling us to just “get over it” and move on. Someone to skillfully yet compassionately direct and inspire us to come out restored, with a healthy perspective on our loss and our life going forward.
About the author: Susan Keenan, LPC, NCC, CPCS is in private practice as the Director of Peachtree Psychology LLC in Roswell, Georgia. She has over 15 years of experience in the area of grief and loss counseling, and much of her continuing education over the years has been in this area of specialty. She has provided individual and family grief counseling in both hospice and private practice settings, and led numerous process and support groups for parents who have lost children. Susan is taking new individual and family clients presently, and leads a 6-week Grief and Loss Group scheduled to begin in May 2016. Additional areas of expertise include trauma, abuse, life transitions, LGBTQ concerns and family-of-origin issues.