What the Hell is Grief Anyway?

If you follow the blog regularly, you may have noticed I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about grief, especially in the last few months. And outside the blog, if you know me personally, the last few years.

I’ve gone through a ton of grief and loss in the last 6 years of my life. I’ve had numerous family members pass away, some very close, in the last 6 years and had several family members diagnosed with life altering medical conditions. We also had to put down our cat Freckles in May of 2019.

I’ve also experienced many other huge changes in my life. Most recently along with everyone else a global pandemic, but also graduating university, dropping out of a masters program, changing career paths, moving houses many times, getting married, shifting friendships and social circles, and discovering some of my own life altering medical realities.

And when faced with all of these experiences I slowly realized that they all held feelings of grief and a sense of loss for me. This made sense to me when people had died, that was “normal”, but what about these other situations? They made me question, what is grief? When we say we are grieving what do we mean? When we say loss, what is included in that?

In our western society, it seems that when we say loss, or grief, there is this immediate assumption that we are only talking about death.

Loss & Grief = Death

What I’ve come to realize after the last 6 or so years of my life is that grief is not just about death and losing those closest to us. There are in fact many other forms of loss and sources of grief.

Some other examples of loss or situations that could cause feelings of grief might be: losing or leaving a job, graduating school or changing schools, a shift in relationship dynamic, moving away from home or to a new home, loss of personal property, gaining a new family member, or a change in physical or mental health. There are many, many more examples not listed here because I could probably fill a whole post with only examples.

But really all of these examples are meant to show how a sense of loss and feelings of grief can come from many experiences other than losing someone close to us.

So, what the hell is grief if it is not only related to death?

Loss and the feelings of grief are caused by change. Sudden significant life change that is expected, or unexpected, and that impact our lives. Really, loss and grief can result from any change because change always necessitates loss in some way, even if that is just a loss of what was, a sense of normalcy, routine, how things used to be, or expectations for the future. They can also come from positive changes, not only negative ones. Even when change is for the better, it comes with unknowns and disruptions to the known comfort of our daily lives which can be upsetting.

We need to begin to talk about grief and loss in a much more complex and nuanced way because it is much more common than we might realize. Expanding how we think about loss and grief helps us to understand what we are experiencing, feeling, and helps us to move through those feelings and experiences more easily.

When we don’t know that these feelings are grief or loss, we might not honour them in the same way, or give ourselves enough grace and room to feel how we feel. Without understanding them this way we might feel guilty for feeling badly, or simply not know why we feel negatively. It also impedes us from communicating our emotions, thoughts, and needs to others so that they might better support us.

Feelings of grief can also look very different for everyone and might include: anger, frustration, grumpy-ness, overwhelm, low mood, attention seeking, social withdrawal, and disconnection or numbness. It is not limited to the classic depictions of sadness and crying.

I wanted to share these ideas about grief and loss because I wish someone had talked to me about them this way, that they weren’t only limited to death but really all the changes in our lives. It would have helped me to understand what I was going through and I would have given myself a lot more credit for getting through what I was confronted with.

The truth is grief and loss are everywhere, so we shouldn’t reserve the conversations we have about them to only one kind of experience that they may stem from.

If you’ve been feeling not your best lately, ask yourself if it could be from grief or loss. Has there been a change in your life recently? Or maybe a change from the past that still lingers on your heart and mind? It may surprise you that it doesn’t look or feel like what you’ve been told it will.

Write soon,

Hannah B.L.

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