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The discussions in the next few posts will contain definitions of some common terms we use in talking about grief and some ways of thinking about grief that may help give some structure to our journeys at almost any point along the way. They can be especially helpful in the early parts of our journeys as we try to find ways to understand what is happening to us.

Two thoughts to begin with:

“Life is like a river and grief is like a flood.”

waves of grief

“Grief is like waves breaking on a beach, overwhelming during a storm and changing to broader, lower swells that wash up less often and more gently on the shore when the storm is over.”

Definitions:  What are we actually talking about here?

Grief: is a deep sorrow, especially when caused by someones death. It is a feeling within yourself in response to someone dying. 

I think the important thing to remember here is that grief is a feeling or actually a large and complex group of very intense feelings that, especially early in the journey, come over us and often kind of take us over. It is usually a totally emotional reaction and not rational or thoughtful at all.

Grieving: is what is happening to us as we grieve. 

Grieving is what we experience during our grief. Grieving can be a long, intense, often painful and sometimes even traumatic experience that can profoundly effect us and change us. It is what we go through as we grieve.

Mourning: is the expression of deep sorrow caused by someones death. It is the outward expression of your inner feelings (of grief) when someone dies. Mourning is the way you express how your grief makes you feel.

waves of grief

Grief-fog”: is a way of describing a time, usually early in our journeys, when grief is almost totally in control and we are so consumed by it that we just seem to wander through our lives, barely aware of what we are doing or saying as we try to navigate through our grief. Looking back, many people talk about “spending the first year of their bereavement in a fog”.

As with all parts of grief, what you experience will be your feelings, they will be your grief and they will reflect who you are and how you loved. While our individual journeys through our bereavement are unique, they also contain many commonalities that we can share. Over the next few meetings, we will try to define some of those places and let them help us understand that we are not alone in what we are experiencing in our grief. 

And as you begin to navigate through your grief journeys, please try to remember that we grieve because we love. I believe it is important to understand that it is our love and the ending of our lives with our loved ones that cause us to grieve. 

And as an affirmation: we have the need and the right to grieve as and when and for as long as we need to. Grief is the process through which we find healing.. 

This is different from clinical grief that has been recently defined as debilitating grief that lasts for longer than a year. 

The sadness in our grief:

We miss our loved ones and all the interactions and time we spent together. We miss the things we did and said and were to each other, the things we will never get to do or the things we will never get to do again. We feel the sadness and loneliness of being without them filling their space in our daily lives.

There is a physiological component to our grieving as well, where our brain also reacts to the absence of our loved ones and that seems to interact and perhaps compliment our intense thoughts, feelings and emotions.

 Some ideas to consider no matter where you are in your journey:

The main thing I want to focus on now is based on something I learned from Andi during her cancer journey. She decided early on, as she realized what she was facing, that she was not going to be her cancer. She was going to be herself living with cancer and she was going to go on living despite it and be herself as much as possible through it all. And she did!

What I learned was to apply that powerful idea to the experience of grieving as: 

We are not our grief, We are grieving…

Being our grief or becoming our grief seems to me to contain the idea that grief has been incorporated into who and what we are and has become a permanent part of us and that we are somehow stuck in a new life of grief without end. 

Not being our grief or being separate from our grief, to me means that grief doesn’t own us or define us. Grief is not actually a part of who we are and so, in time, we can pass through it because it is something that is happening to us and is not part of our selves.

I believe that there is more than a semantic difference here. How you look at grief and grieving and how you define them, in many ways, controls how you react to them and how you will choose to approach finding healing and wellness going forward.

Grief can be one of the most overwhelming emotional turmoils we ever experience. It can feel and be one of the most painful things we ever go through. But, if grief is something that is happening to us but it isn’t us, then we can still be growing and learning through it all as we find ways to move forward towards healing and wellness.

But, as we grieve, we are intensely effected by and changed by the experience of grieving. It is not that we become the grief, but that the experience of going through the intensity of our grieving changes us just as any intense experience changes us.

A last idea to consider: 

As we grieve, I think it is also important to remember that there is no one way to grieve and there is no “right way” to grieve. There is no time table, nor a “should do” list, nor a calendarHowever long it takes, that’s how long it takes.

But, something important I want to affirm again is:

It’s always OK to grieve! 

Because there is no single right way to do it or experience it, you can do it in your own way and do it in your own time. It’s not up to others to tell you how or when to grieve nor for anyone to tell you when your grieving should be ended. 

When it’s time to do something on your grief journey, you will know it but it should be when it feels right for you and not when somebody or some book or something you saw on the internet or on social media says you should do something or be something. 

It’s just different for each of us and we need to follow our own feelings and our own hearts… We need to know in our hearts, that we need to grieve. We need to remember that it’s always ok to grieve, and that we can do so as and when and how we feel we need to.

Negative grief and mourning behaviors:  

Just as a reminder here, there can also be grief or mourning behaviors that might be the results of pain, anger or frustration within our grief that are loud or violent or hurtful to ourselves or others. If those types of behaviors do start to manifest, we should try to be aware of that as a time to seek professional help when our grief or mourning becomes too intense to navigate by ourselves or within a group setting.


Does it help to think of being separate from your grief and not let it be who you are?

Can you see a way to separate from your grief but still remain yourself within the grieving?

Can you perhaps think of any examples of you and your grief being different and separate?

What is your grieving like for you and how has it changed you?

What would you be willing to share about how your grief makes (made) you feel and act, especially in the early days? What does (did) it feel like for you?

Is it OK for you to grieve?