Life Notes: The Many Faces of Grief
by Erin Rockett, NCC, LPC, LMFT

What mental picture develops upon hearing the word “grief”? A funeral or a family crying by a picture of the deceased? Both images are accurate, but numerous unfortunate life events trigger grieving. For example, military deployment, divorce, family moves, medical diagnoses, and job/school changes can trigger grief. While the understood definition of grief is “sadness in response to loss,” grieving occurs over time. Grief experts delineate the grief process into phases. According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, grief stages include denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Others define grief as “the process of letting go of loss and rebuilding the present.”

Individual loss responses may differ significantly from typical television grief portrayals. Grieving is a personalized process that varies depending on age, cultural and religious affiliation, and social support system. Many openly share their pain, but others prefer grieving privately among loved ones. People gradually return to activities within weeks, but grieving and healing continue for months and years. If someone suffering a recent loss is entirely unable to function after a few weeks, professional help may be needed from clergy, social workers, psychologists, counselors, or family therapists.

Even if professional assistance is not needed, grieving individuals MUST give extra attention to themselves during healing. Proper rest, nutrition, and exercise are crucial elements to maintaining health. Studies show grieving or stressed individuals may be more illness-prone. Also, family and social activities help build new life connections when displacement from loss is keenly felt. And finally, people need to give themselves permission to grieve and understand the process. Random events trigger sadness: greeting card commercials, familiar scents, or childhood friends’ calls. Permitting ourselves to grieve creates space and energy to rebuild lives and develop new resources.

The Life Notes articles are written by the staff of Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home and are also published in The Ruston Daily Leader.

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