Grief in Brief Series 3 – The Many Emotions of Grief



  1. Distinguishing Grief and Mourning

Dealing with overwhelming emotional reactions is probably the most challenging aspect of the grief process. Often we feel stunned by the impact of the loss, and swamped by an avalanche of incomprehensible reactions and uncharacteristic behaviours.

  1. Validating Emotions

There is a dangerous perception that can adversely affect grieving people. Sometimes we persuade ourselves that “I must be the only one experiencing this.”

  1. What Are Emotions?

So what is an emotion? The dictionary defines an emotion as “a feeling such as happiness or sadness, love or dislike, fear or anger, which can be caused by the situation you are in or the people you are with.”

  1. The Reason for the Reaction

Emotions can be especially challenging when “how you are feeling”, conflicts with how you think you ‘should’ be feeling or dealing with things. In fact, you may be worrying that you will never feel better or be able to cope.

5.a.   Avoidance

While we acknowledge that every individual’s emotional reaction will be unique and personal, there are a number of commonly shared emotions we can identify.

  1. b. Disorientation

When the numbness wears off (and every individual’s time-frame is different) what many people experience can be described as an explosion or avalanche of emotions.

5.c.   Confrontation

In one sense, the seasons of numbness and disorientation are a time of avoidance, and that is natural. But the time comes when we are confronted by the fact that “This is really happening.” The challenge of this new season is to accept the reality of our loss and experience the pain of that realization. Thus it is characterized as a time of “angry sadness.”

  1. Dealing with Guilt – a) The Problem with Guilt (1)

Listen to what Elizabeth said after her husband died:

 “Jim and I had a wonderful relationship, and his favourite expression was always ‘No regrets.’ But somehow since he died, I just feel so guilty thinking of all the things I could have done better or didn’t do. I blame myself that I didn’t do more for him.”

b)      The Problem with Guilt (2)

Last time, I suggested in a situation where there is nothing we can do, we try to discover what we could have done.

c) The Problem with Guilt (3)

Every “if only” takes todays knowledge and tries to apply it to yesterday’s experience. And when you think about it,  that just doesn’t work.

  1. a. The Need for Forgiveness

The only real answer to guilt is found in understanding the meaning of the word “forgiveness”.

7 b.   The Need for Forgiveness

Part of the difficulty is that many people misunderstand forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not mean excusing the behaviour, or being forced to make up with some offending party. It is not just forgiving and forgetting, because forgiveness means more than simply “not remembering”.

  1. a. Dealing with Anger

Anger, like guilt and blame, finds its origins in feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.  Study angry people … they may seem angry over a thousand different issues, but the one thing they all have in common is that they have been or feel disenfranchised. Somewhere, somehow, a situation has occurred over which they have no control. This may be in reality or in perception, but whatever, they feel helpless and respond with anger.

  1. b. Dealing with Anger

In our grief, we often question “Why”. Why did my loved one die?  Why does my life have to be one of suffering and sorrow? We feel anger because there are no answers to such questions, certainly no easy ones.

  1. c. Dealing with Anger

The underlying message of angry people is “I want it my way”! But sadly, life doesn’t always work like that.

  1. a. The Blame Game

Blame shares the same root cause as guilt. Guilt says, “It’s my fault, I could have done something” while blame says “It’s somebody else’s fault.”  Both assume that there is “fault” which is not necessarily so.

  1. b. The Blame Game

The fundamental rule of the blame game is: If something goes wrong, then someone other than me must be blamed for causing the situation. Just as with guilt, blame assumes there must be a cause. We would rather blame someone or something for being the cause of our misfortune than admit that in fact “stuff happens” and there is nothing we can do about it after the fact.

  1. c. The Blame Game

One of life’s most significant realizations is that things don’t always go the way you want. As difficult as it is to accept, things go wrong.

  1. a Coping with Loneliness

When Mother Theresa was asked what she saw as “the world’s most urgent problem”, the interviewer expected her to answer disease, poverty or injustice. But she responded: “The most terrible poverty in our world is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”

  1. b Coping with Loneliness

There’s a definition of loneliness that I find helpful.

“Loneliness is the sense of isolation that comes in response to the absence of a needed relationship.”

  1. c Coping with Loneliness

So how do we overcome loneliness? I have found it is helpful is to distinguish between “loneliness” and “aloneness”. Although the words lonely and alone are from the same linguistic root, psychologically they are opposites. It is possible to be lonely without being alone. You can be lonely in a crowd. But it is equally possible to be alone without feeling lonely.