I’ve been thinking about what our immediate and most basic needs are in grief. I guess we could call them “basic grief needs” – or BGNs – I love a good acronym.
My thought is that BGNs are ultimately pretty unique to the individual. For example, after my mother died, I think my most basic grief need was to have a baby. That may seem wildly out of context, but I can explain.
If I had to psychoanalyze myself – which, twist my arm – I’d say that having a baby was my way of trying to reconstruct the family I felt I’d just lost. I knew I couldn’t have my “before family” back because our center of gravity, my mother, was gone. But I guess I thought I could regain some sense of balance by recreating the mother/daughter bond.
[P.S. Please don’t worry about my motivation for having children. I always knew I wanted kids – I just hadn’t planned to take the express route.]
So that’s a long way of saying, I think my most immediate and basic grief need was to recreate my physical bond with my mother and find her special kind of love. Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen, but in the early days of grief, our wants don’t always align with what is realistic.
It’s common for people to try, in vain, to restore their physical closeness with the person who died. And it’s normal for people to want to reestablish their attachments. So I guess my BGN was unique-ish in my expression of it, but also completely common.
Of course, this wasn’t my only need at the time. Grieving people have all kinds of needs. But some needs demand more immediate attention than others. For example, take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (pictured below thanks to Simply Psychology). Maslow said that our basic needs, at the bottom of the pyramid, must be reasonably satisfied before we can attend to our needs at higher levels.
You can see how the death of a loved one might have an impact at every single level of Maslow’s hierarchy. My need to feel close to my mother would relate to love and belonging. However, loss certainly has the ability to impact a person’s sense of basic safety and the ability to meet basic physiological needs.
Human basic needs matter, but do basic grief needs matter?
Truthfully, I’m not sure. But lately, it seems like the world’s spinning off its axis, and all our individual little worlds are bouncing around and crashing into each other. What felt important yesterday, feels less so today.
There’s so much trauma, loss, and pain, and there’s not a damn thing anyone can say to change that. At least, nothing that feels sufficient. All the theories, concepts, and coping skills we regularly write about have their time and place – but right now, they seem abstract and disconnected from the very real struggles that people are going through.
At the same time, support systems are taxed more than usual. Not only are people more physically distant, but many are experiencing their own “stuff,” which may decrease their bandwidth for supporting other people. So I was thinking, maybe what we need to do is triage and focus on the basics – whatever those may be.
In my mind, many basic grief needs go back to things like normalization and validation. In other words, simply knowing:
- your loss matters
- your grief is important
- you have the right to grieve your loss, no matter the source
- what you’re experiencing right now is probably normal
- you don’t have to move on, get over, or forget
But I know that’s not all. And so I’m wondering, what do you think?
When you first experienced loss, whether that was days or years ago, what was your most basic grief need? And if you’re a little further out from the loss, how has that changed over time? If you have a few minutes, close your eyes and think about it.
Some of these needs won’t be able to be met because, like my example above, at the heart of them lies a wish to have your loved one back. However, knowing the need can perhaps help people find alternative comforts in an unfixable situation.
If you’re still with me, and you have thoughts on your BSG 🙂 share them in the comments below.