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Grief: It’s More Than Just Boo-hooing

Bob Baugher, Ph.D.

We see it all the time, especially in movies: Someone has just experienced the death of a loved one and they are crying, upset, sad, inconsolable. Yet, here they are in the next scene all better. No tears, no sad looks and certainly no mention of the deceased. As you read this, you might be thinking the same thing that my wife says when I point out this sudden apparent change from grief to “everything is fine:” She turns to me and says, “It’s just a movie.” True, but in hundreds of movies we see the same thing:

death—>grief reactions—>all better—>no mention of deceased—>move on with life.

I’ve met thousands of people who’ve experienced the death of a loved one. I’m not exaggerating—thousands. People who’ve suffered the death of a parent, a brother or sister, son or daughter, grandparent, husband, wife, partner, relative or friend. Some were ten or twenty years out. For others, it was yesterday. What I learned from these folks (and my own losses as well) was a critical fact about this aspect of the human condition: Grief is complex—it is a vast array of reactions, some of which are short-lived while others last a lifetime. Some time ago I sat down and began compiling reactions to the death of a loved one. I remember thinking, “OK, maybe 15 or 20. Thirty at the most.” By the time I was “done,” I ended up with a list of 65 grief reactions. I put done in quotes because there are surely more—perhaps upwards of 100.

I arranged the list into five categories: Mind (Cognitive), Heart (Emotional), Spiritual, Other People (Social), and Behavioral/Physical Reactions. As you look over the list, you might find yourself saying, "I experienced several of these after my loved one died, but that was years ago." No one experiences all of the reactions and most of these do fade with time and work. But, I’m willing to bet that most everyone experiences at least a few of these reactions for a lifetime. Here they are:

65 Common Grief Reactions

Bob Baugher, Ph.D.

Five Categories

Mind Spiritual

Heart 1. God

Spiritual 2. Meaning of Life

Other People 3. Altered Sense of Just World

Physical 4. Altered Sense of Immortality

5. Questioning Religious or Spiritual Beliefs

Mind 6. Afterlife Beliefs

1. Lost

2. Denial Other People

3. Unreality 1. Feeling Isolated

4. Time Distortion 2. Feeling Cursed

5. Avoidance of Reminders 3. Pain for Other Loved Ones

6. Searching 4. Overwork

7. Longing & Missing 5. Job Strains

8. Loss of Shared Knowledge Structure 6. Avoiding Others

9. Multiple Reminders of Loved One 7. Changes in Family Roles

10. Concentration Problems 8. Individual Grieving Differences

11. Memory Problems 9. Communication Problems

12. Obsessive Thoughts 10. Withdrawal from daily interac

13. Rituals 11. Additional Family Changes

14. Confusion

15. Altered Sense of the Future Physical Manifestations

16. Desire to Obtain More Information 1. Crying

17. Disruption of Social Clock 2. Gastrointestinal disturbances

18. Dreams and Nightmares 3. Loss of Weight

19. Altered Beliefs 4. Sleep Problems

20. Loss of Role 5. Sighing/Shortness of Breath

21. Continued Questions 6. Lack of Strength

7. Physical Exhaustion/Lack of Energy

Heart 8. Feelings of Heaviness

1. Shock 9. Feelings of Emptiness

2. Anxiety 10. Feeling of Something Stuck in the Throat

3. Pain 11. Diminished Immune System Response

4. Fear 12. Heart Palpitations

5. Helplessness 13. Nervousness / Tension/ Restlessness

6. Anger 14. Increased Risk Behaviors

7. Guilt 15. Sexual Desire Decrease or Increase

8. Deep Sadness/Depression 16. Searching for Something to Do

9. Grief Attacks 17. Neglecting One's Looks

10. Lousy

As you scan the list, ask yourself: "Which ones are not part of my grief anymore? Which ones are still part of my grief today? and Which ones, if any, should I be working on?" As you can see, grief reactions can still be part of your life years after your loved one died. In fact, some of them will be with you the rest of your life. As a wise woman once said, “Grief is unfinished love.” And, because you will always miss your loved, some of your grief will always be with you. Why wouldn’t it?

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