Grief is the natural response to the loss of something or someone important to you. It is how your whole self responds to and copes with loss. It can include emotions, thoughts, physical sensations (heartache is real), and changes in the way you think. Grief and coping with loss is something everyone inevitably experiences eventually and it is completely unique to individuals and each situation. No two individual experiences of coping with grief are the same.
Grief is often related to a death, but not always. People grieve when:
- losing their health
- changing relationships
- moving to a different home
- experiencing trauma
- ending an era of life
- changing routine
- and much more.
There are no rules about what is or is not okay to grieve.
When it comes to coping with grief and loss, each person’s response is unique; it can sometimes feel unnatural or even awkward at times. There is no right or wrong way to cope with loss and no definition of what is and is not okay to grieve or feel like you have lost. We have grief and loss lesson plans within these handouts that will help you reflect on how YOU are currently grieving.
“Teen Guide to Grief & Loss” worksheet
“Past/Current/Future States” worksheet
We all need support, especially during times of change, tragedy or loss of any kind. Use this handout to help create a grief support system and identify who you can go to for support when coping with loss.
“Grief Support System” worksheet
Understanding your feelings in general can be difficult, but even more so when you’re coping with grief and loss. Use this Feelings Wheel to help better understand and name your feelings as they come and go. This wheel is just a starting point — you may feel things beyond what is listed below.
Caring for Yourself and Others
Getting information about coping with grief and loss can help you to understand your responses and journey. Just as each person’s experience of grief is unique, so are the things that help. Here is a list of things that many people find important to do or to remember as part of the process.
- Be gentle and patient with yourself.
- Do what you can to keep some normal routine for health and social contact. It’s particularly important to try to maintain sleep routines, good nutrition, and exercise. You can find stretches here that may help, and recipes from Allina Health.
- Connect with others. Grief support may come from a variety of sources, such as family, friends, loss groups or professional counseling. It may be helpful to connect with people who are grieving the same loss or who have had a similar experience. It’s okay to decide to limit who you’re connecting with and how. It’s also important to do things that do not make your suffering worse.
- Take the time you need. Despite what you may hear about “getting over it” or “the first year,” there are no timelines for coping with grief. It takes as long as it takes. Your grief journey will often take longer than you or other people expect. You may feel pressure to feel better than you are by now, whenever this is. It’s also possible that you’ll move on in ways that seem too soon. Don’t let personal judgments surrounding how you cope with loss get in the way of your healing process.
- Find rituals and activities that support your journey. Different people and cultures honor loss in different ways. Often that includes coming together to reminisce, celebrate, and support one another. This has become difficult in the time of COVID-19 when gatherings pose significant health risks. Alternatives to group or public memorializing include online gatherings, written remembrances, musical dedications that can be shared, and public markers such as engraved stones or works of art. There are also a number of personal and private rituals that can be done anywhere at any time.
Types of Loss & Grief
- Ambiguous loss—This happens when there is not clear closure on a situation. People who experience ambiguous loss often feel like they are searching for answers or understanding of why something happened. For this reason, ambiguous loss can be especially confusing, and learning to cope with grief can be difficult. Examples of ambiguous loss can include separation of a family through divorce or immigration, seeing and relating to suffering or death through news or social media, the loss that happens when a family member or friend experiences addiction or mental illness, and natural or human-inflicted disasters that affect whole communities.
- Cumulative grief—Grieving is not something that has a clear beginning and end. When people experience multiple losses or traumas, especially in a short period, feelings can easily get tangled up and that makes it harder to deal with each loss individually. Cumulative grief can be overwhelming.
- Anticipatory grief—Sometimes we know a loss is coming and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, such as when someone is terminally ill or when a scheduled end to something is near. Knowing a change is coming is an opportunity to gradually prepare, say goodbyes, and begin to process the reality of what is coming. It can also lead to guilt, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness.
- Suicide—Suicide is different from any other type of loss. Usually the death of someone from suicide has an intense and long-lasting impact. When someone—especially a young person—dies from suicide, friends and loved ones struggle with complex social, emotional and cultural issues that can make the grief overwhelming and isolating. In a community, there may be concerns about suicide emulation. A suicide typically changes and challenges the personal relationships, spiritual beliefs, memories, ability to concentrate, and physical health of the people affected. As with all grief, if you have lost someone in your life to suicide, it is extremely important to acknowledge it and find ways to heal.
The Grieving Process
The labyrinth represents the journey through grief.
It looks like a maze, but is actually something different. In a labyrinth, there are no dead ends or wrong turns. Everything is connected in a labyrinth, though the path is not straight or obvious.
Walking a labyrinth involves a journey to the center and back out again. The only way through is forward, with many turns and going back and forth over what seems like the same territory. The same thing can be said about grief. When we’ve lost someone or something deeply important to us, we have no choice but to journey to the center of our grief and then slowly return to a new normal in the world.
Grief journeys will reflect personal style, the type of loss, internal and social resources, and past experiences. In any journey through grief, there will likely be unexpected turns and insights, as well as some predictable phases such as shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.