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Grief 101


Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance

Adults frequently associate grief with the death of someone loved. However, this is not the only reason we grieve. We confront grief whenever we experience a loss or traumatic event: a divorce, retirement, a debilitating illness or injury, addiction, abuse, the aftermath of a fire, flood, or an earthquake. The list of grief-generating experiences is endless. Healing our grief is a life-altering event and a very personal experience.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a world-renowned expert in the field of death and dying, is credited with the development of the five stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Her studies, often thought to define the stages of grief following the death of a family member or friend, actually focused on terminally ill patients.

This revelation changes the dynamics of how we perceive healing the grief we experience after a loved one dies, or an unexpected or unpleasant event happens in our life. If we try to follow Kübler-Ross’s stages in succession, we are led to believe that our grief will be permanently resolved. Unfortunately, for those of us who have experienced a loss or traumatic event, this is not necessarily true. Grief is not just the emotions and feelings we have during or immediately following a loss. Grief has no set time pattern nor does it ever go away completely. We don’t get over it as some people want us to do.

Grief can, however, be an instrument of learning about love, life, and living. Grief can have a positive or negative impact on our life. Grief is choices. We can choose to journey through our grief and, at the end of our journey, emerge a better person for having experienced grief (positive) or we can stuff it within are very being, try to ignore it, and fail to receive its rewards (negative).

Everyone responds to grief differently. No two people will react to a shared grief experience in the same way. Although we may share similar feelings and emotions with other family members, friends, or co-workers, many factors will determine the end result of our personal reactions to
trauma and grief. These factors may include how the loss occurred, our emotional involvement with the person or event, our previous loss experiences, and what lessons we learned as children for coping with emotions and feelings.

Your individual responses to grief are both normal and natural, and not a sign of weakness. Grieving is very necessary to heal the mind and spirit. Grief involves the whole person; the physical, mental, emotional as well as the spiritual self. It is not governed by a set of rules that, if followed consecutively, will erase the grief. In other words, you do not deal with one emotion or feeling and move on to the next. You do not deal with anger or sorrow for a few days and remove it from your list. But rather, you flow back and forth between some of the same or previously unacknowledged emotions and feelings until, after many months or even years, you come to the end of your grief journey. The intensity and duration of your individual grieving process is comparative to the loss. In other words, the more emotionally involved you are with the person or event, the deeper the emotional trauma and grief.

Grief is overwhelming! Working with your hands, participating in physical activity, or relaxing can help reduce the stress in your life. Be good to yourself during your grief journey. Grief exhausts even the strongest of bodies. Eat healthy. Get rest. Realize that your life, as you once knew it, will never be the norm again.

You must design a new normal life. Take your grief and use it to make a positive impact on yourself and the world around you. Eliminate negative thoughts. They will only add more grief and stress. Do not rush to heal your grief. The lessons you will learn along the way are invaluable. Many people have learned to reinvest in life and living following a traumatic event. Seek them out. They have walked the path of grief and will be your guide. They will offer understanding, a gentle hug, and strength.

Copyright Peggy Sweeney.

About the Author: Peggy Sweeney is a mortician (retired) and bereavement educator and the president of the Sweeney Alliance, a Texas-based non-profit company. She has written and taught countless workshops about coping with grief and trauma, including How to Understand Grief Seminars (HUGS), Child Healing After Trauma (CHAT), and the Grieving Behind the Badge program for emergency response professionals. She is the author of numerous award-winning articles and is the editor of three online newsletters: The Road Less Traveled, Bereaved Parents and Grieving Behind the Badge. Peggy is a former member of the Comfort (TX) Volunteer Fire Department and a former EMT-B. You may contact Peggy at

Want to learn more about grief? Visit our Coursework in Grief: A Lesson in Healing online.