Identifying Grief and How to Heal

Review and Contributions provided by Melissa Marks, LPC and Certified Meditation Coach

What is Grief?

Grief is a powerful emotion. It can be a mixed feeling of sadness, anger, and love. After all, if there was no love, there would be no grief!

In my legal practice, which encompasses areas of law concerning death and disability, I regularly counsel clients who are experiencing feelings of grief. They may have recently experienced a death in the family, a serious medical diagnosis for themselves or a loved one, or a disagreement or estrangement from a family member. I am always curious how potential clients are dealing with their grief when they consult with me. It can be informative on how receptive they will be toward legal guidance. 

Although grief is a normal human emotional reaction to a loss or changed circumstances, it’s how we grieve that defines our path toward resilience (the ability to overcome trauma). To fully process grief, the individual must eventually accept their changed circumstances and figure out how to move forward.

Symptoms of Grief

But how do you know if what you are feeling is grief? Here are some common emotional and physical symptoms of grief:

  • Sadness
  • Crying spells
  • Anger/frustration/rage
  • Confusion/feeling overwhelmed
  • Guilt/Worry/anxiety/panic
  • Yearning
  • Edginess/irritability
  • Low energy/exhaustion/weakness/fatigue
  • Memory problems, feeling distracted, preoccupied
  • Headaches
  • Stomach upset, loss of appetite, OR overeating
  • Sleep disturbance—too much or too little, or disturbed dreams
  • Feelings of heaviness, muscle aches, pains
  • Being super busy, pushing yourself to do too much
  • Reckless, self-destructive activities such as drinking too much
  • Feelings of loneliness, or self-isolating behavior
  • Feeling angry toward others who are going on with life as usual 
  • Feeling needy and clingy; fearful of being alone
  • Questioning your faith/meaning of life/God
  • Sense of lack of control

Stages of Grief

When we hear messages of grief in the media, we often hear about “stages of grief”. However, no matter where a person is at in a “stage of grief”, the eventual acceptance of changed circumstances is key to moving forward. For some, this may come easier because their personality is more adaptable. For others, they may need more support and guidance through counseling from a licensed professional or religious leader.

The following are the Stages of Grief, as developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (a Swiss-American psychiatrist, and author of the internationally best-selling book, On Death and Dying (1969) in which she first discussed her theory of the stages of grief):

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Testing
  • Acceptance

Grieving is not a linear process. We don’t complete one “stage” of grief, go on to the next, and finally reach acceptance at the end. If it were only that easy! Instead, grief is a lot more imprecise and messy.  Think of the word intimacy as “into the messy”. Grief is a great example of that–a very intimate experience that both tears us apart and rebuilds us. And, it’s something we all face. Even though it can feel very isolating, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. 

Another very common aspect of grief is what’s known as “grief waves.” This is where you may be totally fine one minute, and then you hear a song, for example, and a memory comes back to you; once again, you become struck with feelings of grief. So how do you manage?

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Creating A Path Toward Acceptance and Resilience

We experience all of these stages of grief (including acceptance) throughout our journey. For example, we can learn not to resist our anger. We can also practice accepting that our grief process will not look like anyone else’s, and that we are not on anyone else’s timetable, but our own. Melissa Marks often hears from clients who feel that they should be better by now. Or, a common example, they should be emptying out their partner’s closet by now. None of that is true. Grieving is your personal journey, and only you know what you are experiencing and what you need.

Taking time for self-care can relieve feelings of grief. And this does not just involve taking time for physical grooming and appearance, but also emotional self-care. This should include carving out time for reflection, prayer, or meditation. Journaling and writing down your feelings and making a written plan for your goals also helps. When we turn our sadness, frustrations, and disappointments into a written plan for the path forward, the brain and body begin to shift along with those plans, eventually resolving feelings of sadness, helplessness, and even physical symptoms of fatigue and pain.

Thank you to Melissa Marks, LPC and Certified Meditation Coach for reviewing the substance of this article and contributing her expertise. Melissa has over 20 years professional work experience in the mental health field.  She gives people of all walks of life actionable, real-life tools to suffer less and live more.  You can find out more about her at www.MelissaMarksWellness.com.

If your grieving journey has you ready to take action in your life concerning a legal matter, contact Law Office of Adriane S. Grace for an initial estate planning, probate, or guardianship counseling meeting. We can discuss how to implement a legal plan of action to get you on your path toward resilience.

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