What is Grief?

“Grief is not an illness or a mental health problem. Grief is a natural part of life.” - Julie Kaplow

Grief is a set of experiences that involves the perceived loss that someone has around a person, a situation, an event, a happening, that changes the way that they physically, emotionally, spiritually, react and respond to the world around them.

So, if we’re thinking about the way that we’re taught that grief is, we’re taught that it just involves a death event, a death of a loved one. But grief actually encompasses a series of losses, and a series of change, and has to do with how we integrate that change into our day-to-day functioning.

Grief is a normal and natural response to a loss.

Each person’s grief is unique. Our individual grief experiences are shaped by many factors:

  • The relationship we had with the person who died
  • The cause of death
  • Our society and cultural background
  • Our personality and coping style
  • Our past experiences with loss
  • Our support network
  • Our religious or spiritual beliefs and customs

Grief can be present during any time of change . . .

We can grieve for many reasons other than death. We can grieve when we experience job loss, loss of relationship, lost opportunities, loss of health, loss of safety or security, loss of independence, loss of hope for the future, and many others.

. . . even during our happiest moments

We might grieve our childhood when we graduate from school. Or grieve for our past life when we relocate for a new job. Parents may grieve when a child gets married, ending the years of life with the child at home. Any time we experience a major change in our normal routine can trigger a grief response.

Talking about grief isn’t something that’s just for grieving people. These are skills that we need in order to show up for all the pain of the world. There is pain everywhere. If you start recognizing how often you hear pain, you know that you need these skills.

We have this really dark and negative idea about, not just grief, but the skills that we need inside grief for ourselves and for others and that’s a weird way to think about it.

It puts grief into this box that we only take out if we have to. If we only talk about these skills when we have to, we're gonna feel really weird when we pull them out to use them.

And I go back to this idea of the fire drill of love, which I really love that imagery.

Why do we practice fire drills?

We practice fire drills so that in the event of an emergency, the skills we need are not new.

In the event of an emergency, we’re already familiar with the territory, we already know where our exits are, we already know to reach for our friends, we already know what to do in that situation, even if we’ve never been there.

They feel scary because we’re not used to them because they bring apart emotions.

But these conversations are the ones that we need to have.

We have to get better at talking about grief and talking about the reality of love.