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Grief is a Normal and Natural Process

Kathryn Patricelli, MA, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 2nd 2016

Grief is a normal and natural process that takes work to get through. It is not easy to let go of close relationships that have existed in our lives. Dealing with the emotions that occur in the grieving process takes much time and energy, and is usually both physically and emotionally demanding. It is normal for people to grieve in very different ways. Some people grieve openly, while others hide their feelings of distress. Some people grieve quickly, while others take a long time to "finish." There is no "right way" to grieve. Each individual comes up with a method of grieving that fits them and their particular loss.

grieving manThere are a number of conditions that can make it harder for a person to successfully make it through the grief process. For example, sudden losses are harder to deal with than ones that have been anticipated. With anticipated losses, the knowledge that a loss will occur allows people to prepare, both by feeling grief before the fact of the loss and also by planning ways to minimize the negative impact of the loss when it does occur.

The loss of a spouse, lover, child, parent, or best friend is usually more deeply felt than the loss of more distant relations and friends. This is because such central relationships have long and deeply felt histories and an intensity of attachment that does not occur with more distant relationships. Central relationships are more deeply and significantly intertwined into the grieving person's sense of self, and thus leave a bigger hole in the grieving person's sense of self when they are lost.

The amount of support a grieving person can draw upon is critical to how successfully he or she will cope with grief. The more that friends, family and community are present and supportive, and the more that the grieving person is able to accept offered support, the better the outcome tends to be. Isolated people tend to have a harder time.

The "fairness" of the loss is also important. Losses that challenge a grieving person's ability to believe that the world is predictable are harder to manage. It is easier to accept the loss of an aged parent who has lived a full life than it is to accept the loss of a child. Death by disease tends to be easier to accept than death by a random, senseless accident.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Pre grief - Lynn - Apr 13th 2012

Karen,

Your thought re pre grief is right on target. My husband of 26 years passed away one year ago. He was laid up with ALS for 15 of those years. At his diagnosis we were told he had a year to 18mths to live. We spent most of those years waiting for him to die. He maintained a good quality of life when we stopped waiting for him to die until the last nine months when he finally did begin to deteriorate. Yes, you do grieve. I only just accepted that the reason I am having such a hard time is because I have been in a state of grief for the past 15 years. I am no where close to closure and I have had to accept that fact. What I will offer is absorb all you can during these days until he is no longer with you. I was unaware I was doing this but it sure has been helpful as I rewind my "video" of the time spent. Live each day YOUR way and store up good memories. I wish you all the best.

Pre-Grief - Karen - Feb 22nd 2012

My situation is a little different.  My husband is terminally ill and medications are no longer helping to sustain him. I guess you would say that I am grieving the upcoming passing of my spouse and I just can't deal with it. Is this because of the anticipation?  I don't know what to expect.  We have been together for 30 years and I can't even imagine going on without him.  Anyone else out there in the same situation?

Learning to Cope - Monica Rosa - Aug 11th 2011
I lost my son, then 2yrs later my husband. I love my husband but the pain of my son is still there. I think it will b inside of me forever. We just learn how to cope differently as time goes on. For the persons that feels like taking their lives the pain does make u feel like that, when u'v lost a child!!! I believe we never get over the loss of a child(my son was 23yrs he was not ill(accident) My husband was sick, but he chose not to take care of his health so he had a cerebral hemmorage. I lost my Mom over 18yrs ago i still miss her and think her all the time; my grandma also. Everyone is different. Even though we have strong spiritual belief the pain is still their. We just learn how to cope each time differently. I have come to the conclusion that our loved ones would want us to go forward in life. I would hear my son say" Mom stop the nonsense and get on with your life" I know he would want me to go forward so i struggle to continue on in my life. I did need counseling and medication for a while; plus i work to keep myself busy. Don't want to think negatives..Nothing wrong with meds to help us thru hard times like these temporarily. Wish all well. Rev.21:4 bible scripture. Read it daily God's Spirit will help us all get thru these things HUGs to all.

2 years of grieving is normal - mike - Sep 6th 2009

i lost my brother back in 2001 when i was 11 and i still think of him everyday, now im 18 in college and on the right track. you just have to realize that it takes a lot of time to cope with losing a loved one, there not just your sister, or mother or son. they are also your best friend. soo please stay strong and know that it does get better as time passes. if anyone needs to talk im here,   mike8691@live.com

GRIEVING - sandy - Aug 14th 2009

I lost my sister in July 2006, then 7 months later Feb 2007, I lost my son and I am still grieving deeply and have no desire to live anymore, and is this normal after 2 1/2 yrs? I am very depressed, feeling very sad and empty inside...how long does grief take after losing a child and sister? Can someone help me with this, is this normal to still be feeling like this? can someone write me at my email address Foxybrat46@aol.com please as I am needing some friends I feel so empty and just want to go be with my son....someone help me understand grief and is it normal to still have these feelings after 2yrs. please write my email as I wont check this website.. thanks

Sandy

Editor's Note: By most definitions, a grief process that is still intense and interfering with life after 30 months post loss would qualify as an instance of complicated bereavement or pathological grief - meaning that by that time it is unusual for people to have not put their lives back together in some workable (if still undesired) fashion.  It is time to seek psychotherapy, I think.  There are ways to honor and care for the dead without sacrificing your own life on their behalf, and hopefully a good therapist can help you find one of those ways that will work better for you than what you are living with now. 

it just gets bearable - Angie - May 7th 2008

Even though it has been two years since the death of my mom, there is not a day that goes by that I do not think of her. There are just so many things that remind me of her, from the way that my sister looks, to the way that I talk to my sons. I hear words that have come out of my mom's mouth coming out of mine and it just makes me miss her even more. They say that the loss of a loved one gets eaiser with time, I do not see this, it just gets bearable. There are times that I long just to hear her voice, and have even dreamed about her to wake up thinking her death was just a dream and she is alive. I pray that with time her death does get eaiser, but the time is not now.

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