What is grief?

Grief is your natural response to loss. Grief isn’t something you choose to experience; it just happens. Everyone’s grief looks different. You and someone else in your family may experience the same loss, but chances are, you’ll grieve differently. And you will grieve differently from one day to the next, or from one minute to the next.

Grieving is a journey. How you experience the loss depends on how strongly you were attached to the person you lost. You can sometimes even experience grief before the death of your loved one -- this is called anticipatory grief.

You may feel grief after the loss. These feelings are completely normal. They can include depression, anxiety and denial. Anticipatory grief can let you resolve any outstanding issues with the person who is dying. It gives you time to say goodbye, and create closure and peace. It can help with the grieving process that begins after the death.

Grieving takes time. Everyone's grief is different. But for most people, the grief process lasts one to three years. After that, you still feel the loss, but it feels less painful. You might still experience sharp grief on birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions. Believers might take comfort from the words or rituals of their faith traditions. Others might create their own ways to mourn and make meaning of their loss.

Grief is a normal, natural response that one experiences when faced with a significant loss or threat of loss. Death, divorce, illness, financial problems, job loss, or cherished property and other significant losses may provoke a grief reaction characterized by feelings of sadness and despair. The grief process consists of several phases including denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. People do not necessarily pass through all stages in sequence.

Remaining in one of the stages may be a signal that grief has evolved into a clinical depression. The amount of time that it takes for someone to recover from a significant loss depends in part on the nature of the loss. A grieving person may find that having a strong social support system, adequate coping skills, and taking care of him- or herself physically (e.g., resting, eating a nutritious diet, and exercising in moderation) may hasten recovery.

People often use the terms grief, bereavement, and mourning interchangeably. Yet they are not quite the same. At its simplest, grief can be described as intense sadness stemming from a loss. Experts define it as any reaction to bereavement, which is the loss or death of someone or something important. Thus grief is the sorrow you feel, but it also includes many other feelings that accompany bereavement, such as numbness, anger, guilt, despair, irritability, relief, or anxiety.
Marty Tousley
Hospice & Palliative Medicine
Grief is a natural, yet highly personal, response to loss. It can follow loss of any kind, including unusual and secondary losses. Examples include death of a loved one and loss of a cherished pet, and losses stemming from major life transitions, such as graduation, moving, marriage or divorce, job loss, incarceration, disability or alteration in health status. Grief can affect us in every dimension of our being: physically, emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally, socially, financially and spiritually. Grief and mourning are highly individualized, according to your own unique personality and life experiences, as well as your relationship and the nature of your attachment, how the loss happened, the support system you have around you, your own past experience with loss, and your particular religious and cultural background. Neither an illness nor a pathological condition, grief is a natural process that, depending on how it is understood and managed, can lead to healing and personal growth.
Kathy Sowder
Grief is the emotional impact a person feels as the result of a loss. Grief commonly includes a sadness, anger, sense of confusion, difficulty thinking or making decisions, fear, and often guilt. The more attached to the person or object lost, the greater the emotional impact may be. Sometimes grief affects one`s ability to eat, sleep, focus, have energy, and to enjoy activities. Grief is a process; it may come and go, and there is no time limit for resolving grief. It is important to get support by sharing one`s feelings, and not denying them.

Merriam-Webster Online defines "grief" as a "deep and poignant distress" caused by, or as if by, bereavement.

The word can be traced back to somewhere between the 12th and 15th centuries, depending upon which linguist you consult. It is rooted in different languages, too. In Anglo-French, gref means injustice or calamity. In Vulgar Latin, grevis means heavy or grievous. All of these cultures appear to hit the nail on the head when they coined the term, which is associated with feelings of sadness, despair, confusion, anger, anxiety and guilt.

Grief also can have a physical impact on those who are experiencing it. Bereaved individuals often experience insomnia, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating and weight fluctuations.

Continue Learning about Grief & Emotional Health

Grief & Emotional Health

Grief & Emotional Health

Everyone feels loss at times, but when we lose a loved one, the feeling is deeper -- grief, a normal emotion. When feeling grief, it's best for your emotional health for you to stay in touch with family members who can provide sup...

port; make an effort to keep a regular schedule and eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise. Focus on taking care of yourself -- and if you're having trouble getting past your grief, see a therapist. With some gentle guidance, you can get on with your life -- and still enjoy your wonderful memories.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.