What Is Grief?

Grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss. It is deep, because it is a reflection of what we love, and it can feel all-encompassing. Grief can follow the loss of a loved one, but it is not limited to people; it can follow the loss of a treasured animal companion, the loss of a job or other important role in life, the loss of a home or of other possessions of significant emotional investment. It often occurs after a divorce.

Grief is complex; it obeys no formula and has no set expiration date. It is an important area of ongoing research. While some experts have proposed that there are stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—others emphasize that grief is a very individualized emotion and not everyone grieves the same way.

Grief is sometimes compounded by feelings of guilt and confusion over a loss, especially if the relationship was difficult. Some individuals experience prolonged grief, sometimes called complicated grief, which can last months or years. Without help and support, such grief can lead to isolation and chronic loneliness

Many of the symptoms of grief overlap with those of depression. There is sadness, often loss of the capacity for pleasure; insomnia; and loss of interest in eating or taking care of oneself. But the symptoms of grief tend to lessen over time, although they may be temporarily reactivated by important anniversaries or thoughts of the loss at any time. And unlike depression, grief does not usually impair a sense of self-worth.

How Long Does Grief Last?

Because grief obeys its own timetable, there is no timer on feelings of pain after loss; nor is it possible to diminish or avoid the suffering. In fact, attempts to suppress or deny grief extends the lifetime of the pain and require so much effort there is little room for other emotional life. Grief has its value—it reminds us what we care about.

Some cultures embrace death, dying, grief, and loss like they are simply a part of life; there is no need to suppress or deny the pain. Customs and practices of grieving can be elaborate and entrenched in tradition, most of which eases suffering to some degree.



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