Grief 101

Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance

Although most adults associate grief with the death of someone loved, this is not the only reason we grieve. It is important to note that grief follows any traumatic event; such as, a divorce, job loss, addiction, a life-threatening or debilitating illness or injury, retirement, relocating to a new city, an abusive relationship; the list of grief-generating experiences is endless.

Throughout this course, we will, for the most part, focus on the death of a loved one. However, the concepts we discuss and the suggestions we make for healing this grief, can apply to many of the events that we mentioned above. For example, finding out that they are downsizing your company and you will lose your job is a LOSS issue and you will GRIEVE. You can experience some of the same feelings and emotions as you do when someone you love has died.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a world-renowned expert and author 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.


Many people believe that these stages, if followed in succession, will resolve grief. Unfortunately, for those of us who have experienced a loss or emotional trauma, 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. It can, however, be an instrument of learning about love, life, and living. Grief can have a positive or negative impact on our lives. 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).

We must also keep in mind that 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, and co-workers, many factors will determine the end result of our personal reactions to trauma and grief; namely, 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. Remember that your individual responses to grief are both normal and natural and not a sign of weakness or the inability to carry out your daily responsibilities.

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The grieving process 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 check it off your list. 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. This means that the more emotionally involved you are with the person or event, the deeper the emotional trauma and grief.

In future articles, we will study the many facets of grief, the reasons that we grieve, our reactions to loss and trauma as well as healing our grief. We will discuss a wide range of topics and issues that can debilitate the human spirit and prevent us from enjoying life to the fullest. Eventually, you should come to the realization that unpleasant events can and often do have a very negative effect on your emotional health and physical well-being. However, as your teacher for understanding grief, I will offer positive coping skills and resources to help you resolve many of these issues. I hope that you will use these lessons as a reference to help you cope with your personal grief and loss issues.

Copyright Peggy Sweeney. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Peggy Sweeney is a bereavement educator and the president of The Sweeney Alliance, 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 has reached out to her community through Halo of Love, a support group for bereaved parents, and Comfort and Conversation for bereaved adults and teens. 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 currently a member of the Comfort (TX) Volunteer Fire Department and a former mortician and EMT-B. You may contact Peggy at

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