“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear” –C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
“Grief is the price we pay for love” – Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
“Winter is come and gone, but grief returns with the revolving year.” - Percy Bysshe Shelley, Adonais, Stanza 18
"Grief does not change you…. It reveals you." – John Green, The Fault in our Stars
For generations, we have tried to make sense of the mystery of grief. Writers and scholars have attempted to explain this experience. We try to make sense of something that is bewildering at best. William Shakespeare tells us to “give sorrow words,” (Macbeth) and so we try to give grief words. Easier said than done. As many grieving people have expressed, “There are just no words to describe this.”
But that doesn’t stop us from trying. Perhaps the most widely-known attempt to understand the grief process is Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and the “five stages of grief.” Originally developed as a way of understanding the process that someone facing their own terminal illness might experience, the “stages” of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance were long ago adopted by the masses as a way of trying to understand the grief process. It’s easy to see why. Attempting to understand a series of tidy, orderly stages is a lot more appealing than trying to make sense of the chaotic and unruly true nature of grief. However, Kubler-Ross’ stages were not meant as a framework for understanding grief, nor were they ever meant to suggest that there is a predictable way of moving through the grief experience.
The most basic definition of grief is that it is our natural response to a loss, whatever that response may look like. Losses come in all shapes and sizes, and our response to them may be influenced by the type of relationship we have with the person, past experiences with loss, current situations in life, along with other factors.
Grief is not an emotion itself, but an experience that may cause us to feel a wide variety of emotions, including sadness, pain, anger, relief, joy, peace, and many more. We may also encounter physical, mental, social, and spiritual changes along this journey. The changes that occur are often surprising, and may certainly be unpleasant at times. Allowing those changes to occur is part of what makes adapting to the loss possible.
The process of moving through grief is also the process of adjusting to a new life, one that may look and feel different than what was imagined before the loss. While adjusting to the many unpredictable changes that grief causes may be painful and at times unpleasant, the process of doing so will also allow us to create space in our lives for hope, memories, and new possibilities for our future.
--Laura B., grief counselor