Grief feels like different things to different people.

For example, in A Grief Observed C.S. Lewis confessed, “No one told me that grief feels so much like fear.”

I have walked alongside individuals and families who are dealing with grief for over 40 years. Here are 10 observations I have made about the traits of grief, the grieving process and grieving persons:

1. Grief is the emotion associated with loss.

Grief may occur over the loss of a friend, a relationship, our resources or our faculties. In my experience, the seven primary catalysts for grief are death, disease, diminishment, dementia, divorce, destruction and distance.

2. Grieving is the act of expressing and processing the emotion of grief.

You just can’t be passive about grief. A grievous loss may do more to disrupt and reconfigure life than any other experience. Grief forces us to rethink, reevaluate, revise, reallocate and reconfigure life. At times, grief even prompts us to relocate.

3. Not all grief is created equal.

Simple grief is what we expect because of the ordinary stages of life, such as the passing of an aging grandparent.

Compounded grief is the experience of two or more experiences of grief in a short period of time.

Traumatic grief refers to the unexpected grief we experience when confronted with a tragic loss such as an accident, flood or storm.

Complex or complicated grief references the type of grief we experience when there is an unresolved mystery associated with the loss, such as a person who is lost at sea and assumed deceased, but we are not certain.

Communal or corporate grief is the sort of grief that affects a larger group of people who sense tremendous loss even though they may not be personally acquainted with the victim or victims. The assassination of JFK or the losses of 9/11 would fall into this category.

4. Faith does not exempt us from grief, but it does equip us to deal with grief with hope and perseverance.

Grief is extremely tough for those who have a strong faith. While grief can strengthen our faith, on other occasions grief may call faith into question or challenge one’s presuppositions about the faith.

A person of faith should be careful not to mask their grief with “rejoicing.” The hope of eternity is strengthening but it does not cancel the pain of grief.

5. Grief is not a momentary event but an ongoing experience.

Grief has no expiration date. For most people, grief ebbs and flows but never goes completely away.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross cautioned, “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

6. The stages of grief do not occur in a predictable order, and not every stage is experienced by everyone.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance may be experienced sequentially, selectively, simultaneously or rotationally with different stages surging at different times.

7. Not everyone in the family grieves the same way or at the same pace.

Different personalities grieve differently. Some people grieve while anticipating the loss. Others grieve more when the loss is actualized. Some grieve privately, while others grieve publicly.

Therefore, it is usually not helpful to compare another’s grief to our own. Neither is it helpful to critique the way a friend grieves.

8. Unprocessed grief can become toxic, endangering our physical and mental health.

Grief, especially traumatic grief, usually takes a heavy toll on the body and the spirit. If we deny or defer our grief, then the noxious effects can be debilitating to our heart, mind and soul.

9. Grieving persons need friends who are supportive and respectful.

Those who are grieving benefit from a small support group who gives them the place and space to grieve. Religious slogans, feeble explanations and awkward questions are usually more hurtful than helpful.

10. Grief is best processed slowly over time.

Healthy expressions of grief include tears, stories, laughter, prayer, gratitude, lamentation and celebration.

Grieving, mourning and lamenting are deeply spiritual disciplines. Maybe that’s the reason numerous psalms and the book of Lamentations are devoted to grief and lament.

The Bible never suggests that we should not grieve. It does, however, encourage us “not to grieve as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Grief is a normal part of life. Everyone will grieve at some point. Grief is seldom a momentary event. Rather, it is almost always an ongoing experience.

As C.S. Lewis processed his own grief following the death of his wife, he observed, “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”

Be sure not to travel this valley alone!

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