What is Grief?

According to my dictionary, Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, grief is defined as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow, painful regret.” While this encompasses some of what the experience of grief is like, those of us who have experienced it know that it encompasses so much more and is unique to each person. In short, each person’s experience of grief is different. While we can say that we have each had the experience of grief, we cannot say that we can truly understand another person’s grief because we each grieve differently. But we are not alone, every human being, every animal, grieves at some point in his or her life.

We often connote grief strictly with the death of a loved one but we experience grief anytime we are forced to give up anything or anyone that was valued or important to us. Some of the most common losses (besides death) I hear about from my patients are the loss of health, the loss of youth, the loss of a loved one through a separation (either temporary or permanent), and the loss of a job. Grief goes hand in hand with life because our lives are constantly changing and with each change comes a loss.

Grief tends to be a “full body” experience. It is a natural reaction that encompasses our minds (our thoughts and our emotions) and often our body as well. Tomorrow I will discuss some of the things that we might experience when we are grieving.

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It is the Most Wonderful Time of Year . . . Or is It?

The holiday season has officially arrived.  As Christmas tunes hang in the air and shoppers bustle to and from different stores, many of us find ourselves conflicted.  The basic conflict tends to be around our perception that this is supposed to be a joyful, fun, maybe even a magical time of the year.  Yet, many people end up feeling miserable and wonder, “What is wrong with me?” We are in a funk that we cannot seem to shake and we do not know why.  Most of us can figure out what irks us about the holidays if we look within ourselves and listen to ourselves hard enough.  Often, our dreams can give us a clue about the direction we need to head in with our self-exploration.

I grew up in a family where there were a lot of old people.  When I was a young child the holidays were a lot of fun.  We would all go over to my grandparents’ house where there would be a lot of people, good food, and stimulating (and often amusing) conversation.  As the years went by people started to die.  By the time I was in my early teenage years I remember thinking (as I set one less place setting than the year before) that at this point more members of my family were dead than living.  Perhaps more than any other time of the year the holidays remind us of the people we have lost.  In part, this is because for some families the holidays are the one time when we all come together.  It is weird but it is easy to forget that someone is dead when we do not see them all of the time.  Of course, we know intellectually that they are dead but sometimes there is a part of us that believes or wishes that the deceased person is carrying on his or her life somewhere apart from us.  When that person fails to show up for the holiday gathering, that he or she would have never missed, it is a poignant reminder that he or she is dead.

Holidays also seem to encourage reminiscing by their very nature.  It is not only Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol that has ghosts of Christmas Past.  We all have “ghosts” that lurk in our unconscious.  Sometimes it is the remembrance of an unpleasant Christmas that is influencing our feelings, while at other times it is a longing to be able to go back to the Christmases of our childhood, early adulthood, or even last year, to be able to visit with those people whom we love but who are no longer with us, well no longer with us physically anyhow.  Once we have been deeply touched by someone it is impossible to ever be really separated from them; they live on in us in so many ways, in what they have taught us, in our memories, and in our dreams, to name a few.

Over the next several weeks I am going to make some suggestions for “getting through” the holidays during particularly difficult years but I want to hear your suggestions as well.  What has your experience been with “the most wonderful time of the year?” What helps you to get through the holidays?

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