If you open a dictionary to grief, it will define the word as a state of deep sorrow, usually in response to someone’s death. While sorrow can be part of grief, I would challenge that grief is neither an emotion nor synonymous with sadness. Grief can encompass the vast sea of emotions from sadness and anger, to deep celebration and joy. In some circumstances it is a reflection of deep love, and in others it may be complicated in response to events and individuals that inflicted trauma and pain.
Grief is a state of being and a healing period of transformation. It arises when our core identity and story is challenged, and the state of grieving is how we reconcile, heal, express, transform, and live to the fullest. It could be in response to many things including someone’s death, diagnosis with a terminal illness, loss of a pet, a dangerous or traumatic event, divorce, break-ups, losing a job, living with a chronic illness, and more. Grief is personal to each individual, though our culture contains it within very limited circumstances.
Grief may also occur on a more subtle level in response to how we think our lives should have gone. Life often occurs painfully, and on wildly different terms from how we would like it to go. On a mental level we know that everyone will die someday, but our story never says that now is when it will occur. Our Western culture has an anxious paralysis around death, unable to speak about the inevitable status of being a human being. This creates very a challenging space to heal and grieve.
To actively grieve is to turn towards our feelings and pain and practice it like a muscle. It is a sacred and necessary practice to the challenges of being human that impacts the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual realms of being. And it isn’t easy. I find in our culture, we have to learn how to grieve when it is happening and then teach others how to support us. Professional support can always be a valuable resource on the journey.