Experiencing Loss and Recovering From Grief

By Jan Cheek, MSW, LCSW

Grief can be defined a number of ways and there does not seem to be any “one size fits all” definition that covers the full scope. For the purposes of this discussion, grief will be defined as a normal, but broad range of emotional responses to loss or change of any kind. These losses may include, but are not limited to:  death of a loved one, loss of physical ability, losses related to chronic illness, loss of a relationship due to a breakup or divorce, moving away from a familiar community or home, death of a pet, loss or change of jobs, graduation from school, and loss of sense of security.

Everyone reacts differently when loss occurs and loss is a natural part of life process, but it can often be painful and challenging. Sometimes can even be confusing because people feel conflicting emotions, both negative and positive simultaneously, such as sadness and relief in the case of loss of a loved one who has died after a long-suffering illness for which a person has been a primary care taker. Common emotional reactions during the typical grief response may include sadness, sorrow, anxiety, irritability, frustration, easily overwhelmed, guilt, remorse, shame, hopelessness, fear, anger, numbness, desire to escape, lack of motivation, and poor concentration.  Common physical reactions may include changes in appetite and eating behaviors, chronic pain symptoms, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.  There may also be difficulties with social functioning such as interpersonal conflict, social withdrawal, difficulty with employment.

Mourning is the expression of grief and is often guided by family, spiritual and cultural belief systems. Mourning and the expressions of grief often occur in cycles and over time and this is to be expected. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no way to determine how much time to predict it might take. Grief is a process and it is unique for each person experiencing it based on many factors. These factors typically include whether or not a grieving person was resilient prior to the loss. Issues that might challenge a person’s resilience are vulnerabilities such as pre-existing mental health issues such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, chronic health conditions, exposure to trauma, and the circumstances of the loss itself.

Grief is often referred to as “uncomplicated grief” or “complicated grief”.  Both processes are expected to be painful, but with uncomplicated grief, a person who has experienced loss does not get “stuck” in grief or become obsessed by the grief experience or the loss itself. With uncomplicated grief, a person may suffer from a broad range of common grief reactions and grief responses, but these do not become intrusive and impairing to activities of daily living and functioning and the acute symptoms mostly resolve. The person who has experienced loss is able to move on with their life.

In cases of complicated grief, the typical symptoms of grief become more chronic and compounded and there is increasing impairment of life functioning.  It is sometimes necessary to help a person stuck in this complicated grief believe that movement from being stuck is possible and even preferable. The goal with “movement” with the grief process is not to “get over the loss” or “put the grief behind you”, but to be able to put the loss in perspective according to a new and different functional reality.

It may be necessary for a person who is experiencing complicated grief perhaps due to extreme loss, or multiple losses, or maybe due to lack of resilience because of vulnerabilities mentioned previously to reach out for professional help from mental health providers trained in grief counseling. Behavioral Healthcare Associates, LLC is a comprehensive mental health practice with both trained therapists and a double-boarded child-adolescent/general psychiatrist to provided grief interventions along with other mental health and substance use assessments and treatments as necessary.  Please call 919-292-1464 to set up an appointment or for more information…. Or review the website