Navigating Grief is Universal

You Are the Expert on Your Grief

Recognize the Individuality of Loss

One of the important premises of Navigating Grief is that grief is universal, yet loss is individual. As you travel your journey of grief reflection, there are three layers about your grief to understand: The universality of grief; the bond with someone who experiences the same type of loss; and your own personal, individual loss.

Universal Grief

Most everyone who experiences the death of a loved one may also recognize the common experiences of grief. This reaction to loss may be physical, such as nunbness, fatigue, restlessness, hunger, lack of appetite, inability to concentrate; and/or emotional, such as crying, lashing out, or feeling disconnected. These are symptoms that can wax and wane over days, weeks, months and even years. Some may be present, others may not.  There are often sudden and highly charged reactions that arise when ordinary daily activities become painful reminders of your loss. It is important to realize that these physical and emotional reactions are normal, and universal, for most people after a significant loss.

How Type of Loss and Relationship Impacts Grief

When in the pain of grief, there is a question that comes up often in support groups about whose death is most difficult. The bereavement specialists, rightly so, will tell you that deaths are difficult for the one left behind, and thus comparisons aren’t valuable.  Yet, there are some factors which make accepting the reality of loss for some people hard to grasp. Identifying the impact on how the type of loss affects you and your lifestyle can help you in the mourning process. Rather than comparing the difficulty of loss, recognizing the circumstances (suddenness or lingering, trauma or peacefulness) and the relationship between you and your loved one (parent, child, spouse, friend, distant relative, etc.) are key components to why it’s difficult for you.

Seeking out others in a similar circumstance is a powerful validation of normalcy. There are national organizations dedicated to the well being of widows, survivors of suicide, families of drunk driving victims, loss of a child, SIDS, cancers and illness, military, losses not related to death such as adoption and disability, plus many more. Their effectiveness is based upon sharing common knowledge and story among people who “really get it.” When you have the opportunity to hear from others and talk about your grief, especially when there are similarities, you each become more expert on your loss.

Navigating Grief offers tools to help you discover the multiple aspects that impact your loss. Getting to know others through our Navigating Grief member community can help create this common bond, too, as you read, write and comment about grief together, regardless of type of loss. For members who seek out and share stories of similar loss circumstance or relationships, the experience is even more profound. Sometimes making a contrast (rather than comparison) of the differences among loss helps everyone better articulate their feelings. What’s most important in seeking out others is that you’ll gain the understanding that you are not alone in many feelings and challenges associated with your loss.

Your Loved One

At the deepest level of your pain, your loss belongs to you. You own the relationship, the connection, and all the feelings. You have the insider’s track to how you feel, and who you miss.  You are the expert.

If you have a child die in an auto accident, you may simultaneously relate to another parent whose child died and the widow who spouse was killed in a car crash. You may even find other parents who have lost a child in a car crash.  Military families have the shared knowledge of the loss of a soldier in service to our country; families whose loved one had cancer know anticipation, illness, and treatments; the elderly have a common adjustment to being alone after many years of togetherness. Finding people who experience similar circumstances create immediate relationships based on “having gone to different schools together.”

Yet, your loss is always personal. Beyond the circumstances of the death is the person you loved. Discovering this essence, the characteristics of the person, is the “why” of your loss. Your grief is usually buried in the life you are missing rather than the death.

The Story

How you relate loss is through story: your story of your role, your story of the event, and your story of your loved one.  By sharing story with others, you’ll discover parallels in loss, and the power to give and receive support.  Story provides the language of your journey.

Can Outsiders Get it?

As you move through time, family, friends and even strangers will offer their condolences.

“I understand.” You hear.

“No you don’t.” You think.

This exchange is as universal as death itself. On the top level of grief, most of us believe we understand. But your reaction to your loss and how you feel – your grief – is based upon your individual loss. As the expert on your grief and loss, you are right. No one else can really understand unless you learn and tell your story.

What do you think? Do you feel like an expert on your grief? Can someone else really understand how you feel? Have you met others in similar loss circumstances, and has that helped you?

7 replies
    DIANA DOYLE says:

    I found myself nodding my head while reading this article. It is so true…everyone’s journey through grief is unique…however the same….in the feelings grief causes you to have.

    Well done on being able to write exactly how it does feel when travelling this often unknown journey of heartache that we sometimes have no control over. My 3 family members all died differently over 3 years, however what you feel…the grief…..was the same each time. And I thought i’d be ok and know how to deal with losing another family member when it happened in the future.

    Well three years ago we were hit with another shock death, my aunt in a horrific train crash in Australia. I was to learn again the hard way that grief is grief, never easy, always the same and is hard work each time you face it.

    Thank you for this blog and I’ll look forward to reading more.
    Diana Doyle

  2. Tabitha Jayne
    Tabitha Jayne says:

    I couldn’t agree more. My loss was unique to me and different from that of my mother’s and my younger sister’s. This is why we need to take responsibility for our grief and discover our own way through it. I know other people people who have lost their brothers but they can never understand what it was like to lose my brother nor can I understand what it was like for them to lose their brother. All we can do is talk about it and find similar experiences to help us relate to each other. By focusing on what draws us together rather than what differs us is what is important.

  3. Susan @ Survive Your Grief
    Susan @ Survive Your Grief says:

    I couldn’t agree more. In my book, How to Survive Your Grief, I talk about the power of story. Even when people don’t want to talk about what they’re feeling, they almost always want to share their stories about the person who died. It’s powerful stuff.

    When you’re able to follow people through the entire grieving process, you begin to see how the story changes over time. Even little things like a change in tense from past to future can signal a shift in the healing process. Often the person grieving doesn’t even notice that they’re beginning to think about a future without their loved one.

    If I could convey one thing to friends who want to help it is this…invite them to share their memories. It is the most healing thing you can do especially when they’re experiencing so many other people trying to change the subject. It’s usually a great relief to be able to tell their stories.

    Two great ways of getting the conversation going is to share your own memories and/or ask to see their favorite photos.

  4. Joan
    Joan says:

    Thank you all for your thoughts. @Diane, sounds like you’ve naturally come upon the compare and contrast of losses in your life. As I hear from more people, I realize how much our first experiences with death shape some of our later responses, just as having multiple losses to grieve does, too. @Tabitha, I definitely think we really are more alike than different! Maybe that’s why a support group can be so helpful. @Susan sharing story is the best icebreaker after loss. Getting through the bittersweet memories (I’m sad as I remember but I am comforted, too) is a great healing tool. Plus, sharing story becomes easier with practice.

  5. anita falconar
    anita falconar says:

    My husband and I were married for sixty years and he died just before Christmas. I live on an island isolated and alone and feel really what reason is there for living.? I feel frightened when I do some painting or writing and then look at my watch thinking it is time my husband and I to have tea- suddenly realize I am hallucinating mixing reality with the dream wold. Does anybody else have this experience?. —

    • Joan H
      Joan H says:

      Hi Anita. First, your well being is most important NOW, so if you have recurring thoughts of not living please call 911. But I do know most likely this is all normal. Your loss is very recent, so after decades together your body and mind still sense and look for the most recent routine for tea and what you are so used to going on around you. Here’s a list, if you haven’t seen it, to consider how your loss seems like these “symptoms” of grief: Is My Grief Normal? Being alone physically and/or emotionally is one of the big hurdles of loss and self-care. Questioning reasons for getting through the pain of loss is not unusual. Grief is usually a dynamic moving and changing process over time. Good days and bad days are actually signs of adjustment and change. So said, please… please take advantage of resources from your healthcare provider or technology to connect face to face with others. If you want, you are welcome to contact me directly if you would like more information about coaching through grief.


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  1. […] is a universal experience, but grief and loss is vey individual. (Read more on this topic here.)  This is why what you say and not say can unknowingly carry a lot of weight. Very often it seems […]

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