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Feelings of Grief

Updated: Mar 9

by Jodi Merritt, August 9, 2023

Grief is pain, sadness, relief, even joy.

There’s no ‘wrong’ way to feel while grieving.

Grief is confusing.

We understand that it is painful and sad. We know it can be dark.

What’s harder to understand are the feelings we don’t think “should” be part of the grieving process. At various times, grief can involve any emotion; sadness can be colored by relief or excitement, calm or even joy. Those are natural. Those are necessary. There’s no wrong way to feel during grief.

What causes grief?

Grief is when you mourn a loss. It can be caused by the death of a loved one, but that’s not the only thing that triggers grief. You can lose someone to distance when they move away.

You can lose someone when a relationship ends.

It also doesn’t have to be a person. People feel grief when they age or move from one stage of life to another. A child and parent can both experience grief when the child leaves home.

The so-called “mid-life crisis” is in many ways a grieving for opportunities lost or a perceived lack of time left in life. Losing a job, failing a class, not meeting expectations you’ve made for yourself and more are all things that can trigger grief.

Stages of grief

Many of us have heard of the “5 Stages of Grief”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

In popular culture, the stages of grief are often seen as a progression; you complete one stage and move to the next. The reality is that these stages are not necessarily linear. You can move from one to another and back again. Even “acceptance” is not final.

So don’t be surprised when you get angry or in denial in your grief later in the process, when you felt you’d already gotten past that. It’s OK.

Talking to a therapist or a trusted person can certainly help if you feel stuck or if your grief is having a negative effect on other people or areas of your life. But the stage of the grieving process you’re in is not necessarily a reflection of whether you’re grieving in a healthy way.

The shame of joy

Many people are ashamed when they feel a positive emotion during grief.

Not only is it OK to feel those positive emotions, it’s a necessary part of the process.

There are positive and negative aspects to every situation and relationship in our lives. The change that sparked your grief set you on a new path, and that path has opportunities for new connections, relationships and experiences.

When a mentor or parent dies, you lose their wisdom, guidance and security. You also grow into new independence and often confidence as you navigate the world without them. You appreciate the valuable things they taught you, and you can celebrate your growth.

When a child leaves the home, you lose many of the pressures of parenthood and gain new freedom.

This is not a call to “look on the bright side” of the situation. You can’t force it. But when these positive feelings come (and they will), try to embrace them along with the negative feelings in your grief.

It is not disrespectful of what you lost to embrace what you’ve gained. We are complex creatures with complex emotions, and that is what makes us beautiful.

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