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Weathering the Grief Storm Well: What is grief, and when will it pass?

by: Reesa Packard, M.A., Ph.D., R.P.

What is grief?

Grief is the emotional, bodily, cognitive, spiritual, and/or relational impacts of any important loss. The loss can be obvious, like the death of a loved one, or subtler, like a small or big shift in life circumstances. 

Lots of people find grief to be very difficult – if you feel unable to function normally in the aftermath of losing someone or something that you cherish, or are very used to, know that this is a common feeling. Some people react to the intense emotions of grief by trying to ignore them or push them away. This strategy rarely works in the long-term though, since grief is a process that we just cannot run from – like a storm, it cannot be derailed, but instead, has to run its course. 

Why is grief so hard?

Grief can be like a storm also in the sense that it rushes in – sometimes by great surprise – and ravages some or all of what we had previously known as ‘normal’. The grief storm can bring crashing waves of anger, sadness, and guilt. These emotional waves can be big, and frequent, and unpredictable. During and after the storm, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and disoriented. 

To get through the grief storm, we have to actively care for ourselves in it, which takes work. There is a decent payoff for this work, though: if we can manage to do this, then those big, crashing waves of emotion can gradually become less intense, less frequent, and more predictable. While the loss itself never goes away, the pain it brings can become easier to tolerate. Over time, we can begin to find ways to re-build a new normal. 

So, how can we weather the storm well?

Striking the right balance between connecting to difficult emotions and also taking regular breaks from them, is key. 

To connect with the difficult emotions, you can try any strategy that will help you feel and release the emotions, such as taking in a moment of silence with yourself either in stillness or while moving, journaling or drawing about the feelings, or sharing the feelings by talking to a good friend or a therapist; find ways to let it out. 

To take a break from the emotions, you can try any strategy that can re-resource you, remind you of a different perspective, or shift your experience, such as engaging in hobbies or activities that you typically enjoy. This might include social, creative, active, spiritual, or deep experiences; find ways to be a bit more okay, even just for a minute or two. 

Remember that everyone grieves differently and that your needs are likely to vary from moment to moment, and situation to situation. The process of learning to weather the grief storm well is less about doing any one specific thing, and more about exploring, and learning about yourself and what you might need. While the balancing of feeling emotions and taking breaks from them can be important, how you go about balancing these will be specific to you. Grief storms can be hard, and anything you do to get through them, that also supports your overall wellness (or doesn’t take too much away from it), can be absolutely okay

Take good care.

Reesa Packard is an Associate at CFIR. She has a doctoral degree from the Saint Paul school of Psychotherapy & Spirituality and works in private practice as a registered psychotherapist. She works with clients hoping to develop a more integrated sense of self as a means to well-being and meaningful, lasting transformation. Reesa is also involved in teaching and supervision of psychotherapists-in-training and advanced knowledge through research in her specialty fields.