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Helping Someone Who is Grieving

What is Grief?
Grief is the deep sorrow felt when something or someone you love is taken away. While it can often be intense and overwhelming, it’s important to remember that grieving is a healthy, natural response to loss. However, the process of grief is not always straightforward. There are many types of grief—from “normal” to anticipatory to chronic grief. Here are a few:

“Normal” Grief
There is no “normal” type of grief. Everyone experiences grief differently. Emotions can run the gamut from shock to profound sadness. While the most intense grief is often associated with the death of a loved one, there are many other causes of grief, including divorce, loss of health, loss of job, loss of a friendship and more.

Anticipatory Grief
Anticipatory grief is when a person grieves a loss that hasn’t happened yet, such as the death of a loved one battling a long-term illness. When someone experiences anticipatory grief, they can feel confused, conflicted or guilty. They may experience anger, loss of emotional control and helplessness. For this type of grief, it’s important to allow space for negative feelings and to maintain healthy coping skills.

People coping with anticipatory grief may also experience a sense of loss over things other than the individual, such as loss of hopes and dreams for the future or the loss associated with the changing roles in family structures. While difficult, anticipatory grief can allow those who love someone to slowly and gradually prepare for—and absorb the reality of—the loss, bringing a sense of closure and peace.

Complicated and Chronic Grief
Grief doesn’t have a timeline. However, complicated and chronic grief is when a person continually experiences extreme distress over the loss with no progress toward feeling better or improving functioning. If left untreated, it may lead to major depressive disorder or other issues in mental health.

Cumulative
Cumulative grief is when a person encounters multiple losses that compound the grief. Older adults are more likely to experience cumulative grief from many major life events happening within a relatively short period of time.

Disenfranchised Grief
Occurs when the grief comes with other feelings about the loss. This could be after a long period of suffering, a suicide, the passing of an abusive partner, etc. This can also occur when society does not recognize a loss as significant or worthy of grief. Because of this, disenfranchised grief is often hidden from others, making it particularly difficult to heal and work through.

Broken Heart Syndrome
Broken heart syndrome is in temporary heart condition often brought on by stressful situations and extreme emotions—the death of a loved one, divorce, breakup, etc. The condition can also be triggered by a serious physical illness or surgery. Women are more likely than men to experience this sudden intense chest pain as a reaction to a surge of stress hormones.

Things NOT to Say to Someone Grieving

  • “At least she lived a long life, many people die young.”
  • “He is in a better place.”
  • “She brought this on herself.”
  • “There is a reason for everything.”
  • “Aren’t you over them yet? They’ve been dead for a while now.”
  • “She was such a good person God wanted her to be with him.”
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “Be strong.”

Helpful Words to Someone Grieving

  • “I am so sorry for your loss.”
  • “I wish I had the right words. Just know I care.”
  • “I don’t know how you feel, but I’m here to help in any way.”
  • “You will both be in my thoughts and prayers.”
  • “My favorite memory of your loved one is…”
  • “I’m always just a phone call away.”

The Stages of Grieving
Healthy grieving is an active process. It is not true that you just need to “get over it.” While working through the stages of grieving, a person needs to first accept the finality of the loss. After that, acknowledging and experiencing the full range of emotions allows someone to adjust to a life in which the lost person is absent. Healthy coping skills, such as spirituality, mindfulness, journaling or enjoying nature, can be helpful. Rather than focusing on what was lost, focus on what was received from that person. During the last stage of grieving, cherished moments and memories can become a tool of healing to move forward.

Learn more about grief and helping those who are suffering from it in our recent webinar. Click here to view the recording.