What is Grief?

This blog is the first in a series exploring different topics centred around grief. I hope to be able to share some of my personal experiences of grief, look at different types of grief and most importantly to generate some discussions so that people realise that they are not alone in whatever situation they are currently facing. As humans we are all individual and unique but are inextricably linked by the fact that all of us will inevitably experience grief throughout our whole lives.

What is the difference between grief and bereavement as these two words are used together all the time?

Bereavement is the period after loss during which grief is experienced and mourning occurs. When we suffer a loss, we go through a bereavement period but experience grief. In its simplest form grief is feeling the loss and we can all relate to how deeply painful grief is.

This particular series of blogs is going to focus on grief in relation to death, but i feel that it is important to acknowledge that people can feel grief over a loss of a job, a house, a relationship, a favourite toy that gets lost (as a parent I experienced this many times with my son and his favourite snoopy toy, I spent hours scouring Ebay looking for an exact replacement which was inevitably rejected by my son for “not smelling the same”)

Grief is not just about death but about the emotional journey that people take to cope with a loss.

Grief is personal and unique, no one person will experience the same grief or level of grief, so it is important not to compare your journey to your family members or friends. Well meaning friends, family, complete strangers will inevitably share their grieving experiences with you as a way of saying “you are not alone” in this, but please do not compare where you are and what happened to them. Grief takes as long as it takes and there is no set time or period as to when you come out of survival mode and start to think about what next.

There are so many different types of grief, so I am only going to mention a few here, but I want to show you how much, we as a society, have simplified grief into just that one word of GRIEF:

  • Anticipatory Grief- This type of grief can start long before a person dies. It is normally associated with a diagnosis of terminal cancer or an illness such as Alzheimers. People struggle with this type of grief because the person is still alive but the process of grieving for the person they knew before the illness takes them starts from diagnosis.
  • Delayed Grief- The grieving process is not started following a death, but is delayed until a later date (and is normally triggered by another life event that can seem unrelated)
  • Complicated Grief- is when grief becomes severe and significantly stops a person’s ability to function. This is often associated with a sudden or violent death.
  • Disenfranchised Grief- can be felt when a person experiences a loss, but others around them downplay the significance of that person. This can happen with the death of an ex-colleague, ex-partner or pet.

I remember watching a news programme, as a child, where a funeral was taking place in Syria and I watched as the poorly made wooden box was lowered into the ground and women and men fell to the ground, screaming and crying with such anguish and pain etched on their faces. Contrast this with burying my mum at the age of 24, I remember sitting in the crematorium, dressed smartly in black, looking at a beautifully crafted coffin, trying not to cry, remembering those women and men who freely expressed their pain as a whole community, while i tried so hard to “put on a brave face” and people congratulated me on “doing so well”. There was a freedom of expression in that Syrian community that we in our society lack.

Society places conditions on grief. If we do not cry at a funeral we are not affected enough, or if we are still emotional 12 months later, we get told that “we need to move on”. Emotional displays are met with uncomfortable silences or people begin to cross the road when they see you just to avoid that awkward conversation. Society also places a time limit on grief, illustrated by the maximum of two weeks compassionate leave often given by employers.

Experts say that grief is a process and cannot be rushed, yet society shares a different message, so how do we process our grief, in our own time, while not giving in to society’s expectations?