#1: Grief Defined

I remember when I first heard Bréne Brown describe grief as, “the loss of an expected future.” I was struck by the simple truth of the statement and grateful for a way to understand all types of lost expectations.

Expecting to celebrate Christmas on Mom’s acreage until she was old and gray.
Expecting him or her to be “the one.”
Expecting your babies to still need you as they grow older.
Expecting to see your partner every day for the rest of your life.

This definition helps identify grief in all its iterations. Labeling a reaction as “grieving” also helps us more readily give grace to those who need it.

#2: The Uniqueness of Grief

If grief is the consequence of connection to a hope, time, or person, it also must be love; without love, there is no connection. This is important to note because just as love is unique to each person, so is grief. After loss, a person’s mind must create a new understanding of the world against the changed reality of his or her life. In extreme and sudden loss this takes mental Olympics. When supporting someone through a tragedy, it’s important to acknowledge that your experiences with loss are not the same.

#3: The Timing of Grief

Grief takes as long as it takes.

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the five stages of grief in her book, On Death and Dying. The stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance have been widely used since to understand the multifaceted nature of grief. Unfortunately, they also have been interpreted as a specific timeline for the grief cycle. As a result, grieving people sometimes feel they are doing it wrong or taking too long. In her later work, Elisabeth acknowledged that the stages are not a progression; some may only experience select phases or move between phases without sequence.

In working with grief, give yourself and others space to be where they are, when they are there.

#4: The Cure for Grief

Megan Divine, author of It’s Okay that You’re Not Okay, explains that grief “[…] is not a problem to be solved. It’s an experience to be carried.” When someone is hurting, our natural inclination is to make them feel better. Typically, platitudes are the knee-jerk response. Yet, “look on the bright side” sentiments tend to further isolate the grieving person by making them feel like they need to justify their pain. Instead, a person often needs to be “[…] heard and witnessed inside the truth of their loss.” Acknowledge that what happened was awful and that you’re deeply sorry. Here are some “ground rules” to guide your interactions and an incredibly enlightening short video.

Before I knew better, I doled out my share of hurtful platitudes. The better we understand grief, the better we can support each other. I wish you a holiday season of genuine connection, moments to acknowledge loss, and heartfelt empathy toward those who are hurting. Megan Divine articulates it beautifully: “There’s nothing we can’t answer without love and connection.”

More Resources:

Much of this content was derived from It’s Okay that You’re Not Okay by Megan Divine. Megan’s career began as a psychotherapist. When her world was turned upside down by the sudden death of her partner just months before his 40th birthday, she found little help in the therapy world. Following her loss, Megan began her quest to create resources that speak to the truth of loss and life after intense grief. To learn more, please visit refugeingrief.com.