Men & Grief – What exactly is Grief?

Throughout this series, we’ll examine some strategies to cope with grief in a healthy and healing way, as well as other related topics.

Grief is the very normal and natural reaction we all have when we lose someone or something that we love. People sometimes assume you only experience grief when someone you know has died. In fact, grief is usually felt when we lose anything (person, marriage, pet, relationship, job, our health, etc.) that was significant and meaningful in our life.

So what exactly is grief?

If you’ve ever experienced a major loss in your life, you know it generally comes with a flood of emotions; those emotions we feel are often more than just sadness. Our sorrow can be accompanied by anger, shock, helplessness, depression or any number of other feelings. A person can even be experiencing all of these emotions at the same time. This is part of the reason that grief can be so confusing.

Our grief reaction is also more than just emotional. Grief can have a physical, psychological, social, and spiritual dimension to it. For example, we can experience confused thinking, restlessness, or isolation from others. It can impact our energy, sleep, appetite, and even make us question our beliefs.

There are many myths and mistaken beliefs surrounding grief. Let’s cover a few more:

Grief is like getting the flu

As this myth goes, at first you get “sick” and feel awful. However, it’s only for a relatively short period of time. Gradually your symptoms will improve and you’ll get “better” in a straightforward way. The objective is to “recover” and when it’s all over, you’ll just resume life and get back to your old self.

Unfortunately, the reality of grief is usually more messy and unpredictable. There are no predetermined steps, stages or phases to go through. Whether your journey with grief is more like a rollercoaster (frightening ups and downs), a raging river (twists and turns and dangers) or an earthquake (unexpected and devastating), it is uniquely your own.

Time heals all wounds

It can be true that with the passing of time, your sadness and pain may lessen – but there’s no guarantee. It is what you do with that time that will determine if (and when) your grief subsides. Grief is an active process that demands your attention and appropriate responses. Grief is like an injury that requires healing and effort and will not simply magically disappear if ignored or avoided. In a future article, we’ll examine ways in which you can respond to grief in a healthy manner.

There’s a “right” way to grieve

Another common misconception people have is that there is a correct way to grieve. Nothing could be further from the truth! Although there might be common characteristics, what we feel and how we act in response is a unique and personal experience for each of us. Some people reach out to friends and family and need to talk about the loss repetitively. Others may isolate themselves and express their emotions privately by crying. Others still may choose to engage actively by taking care of relatives, making funeral arrangements, or even organizing an annual charity event. The goal is to find the outlet for grief that feels right for you.

The goal of grief is to find closure

We hear the word closure a lot when we talk about grief. It’s a commonly used term to identify a hypothetical endpoint in the grieving process. It’s also sometimes expressed as “moving on” or “getting over” the loss. The desire to stop our pain and end the difficult emotions is understandable. After a heartbreaking loss, we all long to feel “normal” again but the truth is grief has no neat and tidy ending. The only way to completely close that door would be to erase all memories we’ve ever had of our loved one(s).

When we keep our thoughts and memories alive, we will undoubtedly feel sadness, pain and longing. Perhaps in time, and with the right amount of healing, we can also experience joy and some peace when they come to mind. Try to work towards healing and growth in our grief, not closure.

This is the first in a series of articles for Men & exploring the wide-ranging topics of grief and loss.

Author

  • Andrew is a dedicated mental health professional providing assessment, intervention and case management to youth, adults, and families presenting with a wide range of psycho-social, interpersonal and relational issues. His specialty involves relationships, parenting, family violence, anger management, grief and trauma with a specific focus on youth and men in crisis.

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