Grief is one of the most powerful and most universal feelings we as humans experience. Grief, which can be defined as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss,” is most commonly thought of in terms of endings—usually the ending of a life or of a relationship.
One commonly accepted explanation of the grieving process is the Kubler-Ross model, more commonly known as the five stages of grief. This theory explains grief as a chronological progression of five emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While the feelings associated with grief are indeed universal, each person experiences grief differently. One individual may spend months or years in one particular stage of grieving, while another individual may need only a few days to process the event and move forward. Not everyone experiences all five of these emotions, while others may but not in any particular order.
Possibly the worst advice to give to someone who is grieving is to simply “get over it.” Not only is this suggestion extremely insensitive; it may also prove to be impossible. Many people, while they are able to cope and eventually move on with their lives, will never truly “get over” a loss. The pain felt as a result of losses may be compartmentalized and contained—but it may also be carried by a person for the rest of his or her life.
Coping with grief
How a person internalizes their grief will depend largely on several factors, including: the level of closeness the person shared with the individual who is no longer in his or her life, the individual’s personality and character traits, the mental and physical stability of the individual, the individual’s age and stage in life, and the circumstances surrounding the loss. It will be helpful to examine each of these factors in more detail:
Level of Closeness Equal Level of Grief
People will cope with grief differently based on how close their relationship with the “lost” individual was. A person may experience grief and feel sadness if a distant relative or new acquaintance passes away, but the emotions will become magnified at the death of a parent or loss of a best friend.
Personality traits and disposition will largely affect the way a person experiences grief. Individuals who are sensitive and more susceptible to feeling emotional pain will likely have a more difficult time accepting loss and require more time in each grief stage. Certain people simply compartmentalize and process difficulty better than others; these individuals may find they need less time to grieve.
Mental and physical stability
The overall health of a grieving individual will also play a part in the length and severity of his or her grief. Individuals who are weakened by illness or who are suffering from conditions such as anxiety or depression will likely not grieve in the same way as an individual without such conditions.
Age and stage in life
Age and maturity greatly influence the way a person grieves. A small child with an unclear grasp on the concept of death will experience the grief stages differently than an elderly individual who has come to accept death as another part of life. Many situations, including the death of a parent or grandparent, become more anticipated as an individual grows older. Sudden, untimely deaths will have a particularly negative effect on younger individuals.
Circumstances surrounding loss
Typically, the more unexpected a loss, the greater impact it will have on a person. If the end of a romantic relationship was in sight for both parties, the breakup will not come as a shock. If an individual has been terminally ill for months or years, their death will likely be accepted and seen as a comfort, as the individual is no longer suffering.
The timing of grief
The most important thing to understand about grief is that it occurs on no specific timetable. Grief cannot and should not be confined to a certain number of days, months, or seasons. Individuals need to be allowed to process and experience their grief in the way that is right for them; the approach that works for one person is unlikely to work for the next. If you are supporting someone who is grieving, allow him or her an infinite amount of time. Encourage your loved ones to continue on with their lives and be sensitive, loving, and patient. Never advise anyone to just “get over it”—for you never know the extent of their grief.