Our society seems pretty comfortable with the following if-then logic.
“If there has been a death, then there will be grief.”
This logic is easily observed and understood by just about anyone. Take a look at Oxford Dictionaries definition of ‘Grief’:
Deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.
We willingly recognize that when a person dies, it’s almost certain someone close to them will grieve. We have a myriad of rituals and etiquette based on this premise, and as loving friends and family, we are poised and ready to offer our support and comfort should it be needed.
With the correlation between death and grief being so blatantly obvious, we often believe we can reverse the logic to assume:
“If there is grief, then there has to have been a death.”
Now I am horrible at math and all things related. However, I did confirm via this regents prep website (shout out NY public schools) that in a ‘conditional statement‘ when the second condition (the then statement) is false, the whole statement is false.
And notice our grief definition says grief is caused especially by a death, not exclusively.
If we want to change the statement to make it true, then I think it should read:
“If there is grief, then there has been a loss.”
So why doesn’t Oxford choose a more comprehensive yet simpler definition like:
Deep sorrow caused by loss
I have no idea how definitions are determined so I’m just going to assume that a definition of grief without emphasis on the word death seems too unnatural. However, I’m here to prevail upon you that it certainly is not.
Here is how Oxford Dictionaries defines ‘Loss’ (as it pertains to our discussion):
The fact or process of losing someone or something
The state or feeling of grief when deprived or something or something of value
A person or thing that is badly missed when lost
Okay, so now we’re getting somewhere.
Society needs to broaden its understanding of loss and grief. There are many kinds of losses capable of evoking a grief response, and these responses vary from person to person and differ in duration, depth, and complexity.
Many types of losses are capable of causing complicated emotions, difficulties in daily functioning, and impairment in one’s ability to move forward. These losses are often significant enough to require a decent amount of processing and, just like after a death, grievers often view their lives in terms of before and after the loss. Here’s a brief list of events that can evoke feelings of loss and grief:
Illness or Injury
Shift or weakening of the family/support system
Loss of employment or another role
Exposure to death or trauma
Loss of home
Being the victim of a crime
These events can have a profound impact on one’s emotional wellbeing. They may cause individuals to experience grief due to loss of security, hopes, dreams, innocence, independence, health and mobility, comfort, community, connection, love, intimacy, immortality, trust, and faith. One may also feel grief due to shifts in their self-perception, identity, purpose, or worldview.
I don’t think anyone can fully understand grief until they expand their definition to be inclusive of all types of loss. Especially because many of these losses occur as secondary losses after a death. And it’s essential to understanding how dynamic a person’s situation becomes when they have multiple losses to reconcile.
Furthermore, new losses can drudge up emotions related to old losses, while old losses can magnify and complicate one’s ability to deal with further losses. And you thought my logic statements were complicated!
Heck, let me complicate things a little further by pointing out that when a person’s losses are minimized, unacknowledged, or disenfranchised, they will likely experience:
- A lack of support from friends, family, and society who don’t understand the significance of the loss
- Uncertainty about whether they have the right to grieve
- Feelings of being misunderstood, unsupported, disenfranchised, etc
- Harmful avoidance and negative coping, etc.
Unfortunately, many of the circumstances that lead to loss are complicated – job loss, divorce, illness – one needs to navigate paying bills, details, legalities, treatments, etc. Keep swimming, stay afloat, who can worry about anything else?
But we can’t always out swim our losses, and leftover feelings of sadness, anger, regret, guilt, and anxiety loom ominously in the dark and murky water. So we must give ourselves and others the permission to acknowledge and grieve these losses.
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