Five things to understand about grief

Grief is a universal issue that we will all experience at some point during our lives. It has the ability to blindside us, catch us off guard and at times, even render us powerless.

Understanding and honoring the grief process can help navigate an often difficult, yet unavoidable journey. Here are five things to know.

1. Grief is a healthy response to loss

Grief is not a disease or something we learn to get over in time. It is a natural response to loss, an emotion as powerful as love, anger, jealousy and as healthy as eating when we are hungry, drinking when we are thirsty, sleeping when we are tired. Grief is nature’s way of healing a broken heart.

2. The worst kind of grief is YOURS

People often ask, "Is it more difficult to lose a spouse or a child, a dear friend or a grandparent? Is it worse to lose someone after a long, lingering illness or a sudden, unexpected death from a heart attack or accident?"

Just as circumstances make each loss different, grief is unique and individual as well. Whatever the relationship, grief hurts. Nothing takes away from our right to mourn for our special person.

3. The way out of grief is through it

Grief is a painful, necessary journey following the death of a loved one. It is one of the most difficult of all human experiences. There is no easy way around grief and it is an impossible process to avoid. We may try to deny the feelings associated with grief or find the quickest way to “get over it” but most often, it simply does not work that way. Like so many unknowns in life, facing grief takes courage.

4. Grief can be predictable

Following a death, we often experience a wide range of feelings and reactions, not only those commonly associated with grief, like sadness, depression, etc. These responses can surprise us as they appear so "out of character." Although we may anticipate important life events like holidays, birthdays and anniversaries impacting us when we are grieving it can be everyday things that can be most challenging such as a song on the radio, the first flower in a garden, eating alone.

5. Grief does not follow a time schedule

Grief is not neat and orderly and does not follow a prescribed time schedule. Society imposes unrealistic expectations as to how long is long enough to grieve, encouraging us to believe we need to "get over" our grief. Grief is a lifelong process with ebbs and flows. True healing is the ability to remember with less pain.

Mary Gravina is AVP of counseling services and director of pediatric and perinatal services at the Hospice Care Network. She has been involved in end-of-life care for nearly 30 years and developed the first comprehensive children's bereavement program in the tri-state area.