By Last Updated: August 3rd, 2022

What is Grief? – 5 Important Things to Know as You Process Loss

What is grief? Despite how common an experience it is, grief and its associated sense of loss is still a deeply misunderstood process. Whether you’re experiencing it due to the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, the loss of a job, or because of some other major and unwanted life change, the process of grieving is a complex and very personal experience. Here are five things to know about grief as you process your loss.

1. History of ​Grief as a ​Concept

When did the history of grief as a concept begin? The history of grief as a concept began in the early 20th century when Sigmund Freud viewed it as something worthy of psychological study. He was followed up by Erich Lindemann in the mid-1940s. Both of them approached grief as a psychological illness if it went on for too long or was deemed too intense. More modern theories see grief as a necessary process to be experienced and recognize that there isn’t a “correct” way to go through the process of grieving.

2. The Stages of Grief – Are They Real and Still Relevant?

At some point, you’ve probably come across the five stages of grief. Are they real for everyone and are they relevant to everyone’s experience of loss?

As a refresher, the five stages of grief are defined as:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

young man sitting in downtown los angeles, grieving for loss of loved one

These stages were defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying” in 1969. For quite some time, they were seen as the normal way to grieve when, in reality, they describe how the process of grieving happens for some people, but by no means do they describe how the process happens for all people. For many, grief is not as simple and clean as these five steps and it’s important to realize that there’s nothing unusual or wrong if the grief process happens in a very different way for you.

There are other ways of describing the grieving process that take into account the personal life history and outlook of individuals and the fact that the clean and simple steps that Kubler-Ross identified are simply not a “one size fits all” description of the journey through loss and recovery.

3. Grief and Your Mind

How does grief affect your mind? You may experience quite a few changes to the way you think and feel in the wake of a loss. Thoughts of the loss take up a lot of mental space that was previously used to process normal tasks and feelings. Consequently, you may find that you’re unfocused and going through the day in a daze. Everyday tasks may seem overly complicated or even overwhelming. This is often described as “grief fog”, and it goes beyond simply being distracted.

Does Grief Affect Your Memory?

Can grief affect your memory, as well? The overall distraction you feel while grieving can indeed have a negative effect on your memory. As your mind attempts to process the massive and unwanted change you’re going through, it’s not unusual to experience a certain amount of memory loss. In fact, a number of studies have found that those in the process of grieving have difficulty recalling memories that their lost loved one is not a part of.

young woman in dark room holding head in hand while grieving a loss

4. How Does Grief Affect the Body?

Can grief affect the body, as well? Indeed it can, and these physical impacts include:

  • Changes in weight or general difficulties with digestion
    These result from disruptions in one’s normal eating pattern and it’s not unusual to gain some weight in the wake of loss due to “comfort eating” and lack of motivation to maintain a healthy exercise routine.Conversely, some people in the process of grieving lose weight due to a lack of appetite or motivation to prepare or purchase a meal.
  • A variety of physical discomforts and pain, or even illness
    Headaches, chest pains, weakness or heaviness in one’s arms and legs, neck strain or pain and musculoskeletal discomfort are all potential symptoms of grief. Grief can also cause a reduction or outright suppression of the immune system, leaving one open to a host of infectious illnesses, and those with pre-existing, chronic illnesses may find that the symptoms from those illnesses intensify during the grieving process.
  • Difficulties with sleep
    It’s not unusual for one’s sleep patterns to be disrupted in the wake of loss. Some will find it difficult to get a full night’s rest while others will find themselves sleeping more than usual or taking multiple naps throughout the day as a means of escaping the new reality they’re faced with. Either circumstance can leave the individual low on energy and deprived of all the psychological and physical benefits of proper sleep.

5. Lean Into Your Grief: ​Make Your Grief Work For You

Can grief somehow be made to work for you? Processing grief is not something that can or should be avoided. It should be seen as a necessary process of healing and adjustment. Rather than trying to distract oneself from grief or attempting to go back to the way things were before the loss, it’s important to engage the process and realize that it’s not about finding a silver lining, but rather finding one’s way to a new normal.

About Opal Cremation

Opal Cremation recognizes that the death of someone you love is an overwhelming and emotional experience. We’re here to help you navigate this difficult time. We have a number of all-inclusive packages for direct cremation services which can be customized for the needs of each of our customers. Arrangements can be made entirely by phone and our dedicated care team will take you through every step of the process. We are here 24 hours a day. Let Opal Cremation help you through the stress and burden of making these arrangements.

For more information, you can visit our support center. There, you’ll find a list of frequently asked questions regarding cremation and other helpful resources.

Choose one of our Southern California cremation locations to get started:
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