You May Be Grieving

By Emily Phifer, M.S. MFT



“Grief” Defined

At its heart, grief is simply defined by pervasive and significant sorrow over the loss of someone, or something important to us. Grief can result from: losing a loved one, a pregnancy, a job, severed relationships, broken hopes and dreams, instability, shattered ideals, or the loss of abilities we once had. Grief can affect us in many different ways, including physical exhaustion and decreased energy, mental distraction and haze, decreased social energy to connect with others, sadness and loss of hope, and an inability to see beyond the present overwhelming experience of loss.


Avoiding Grief

In our American culture, we seem to avoid grief at all costs. As a culture at large, we routinely attempt to cheat aging and death.  We struggle to truly honor, make space for, and embrace grief when it comes knocking at our door- or at the door of others. Additionally, we don’t always know what to say or how to relate to someone who is grieving, just as we don’t often know how best to comfort ourselves or to be present in the midst of our own grief.  Struggling to get out of bed in the morning, we may wonder, “will this ever end?”.



Losses of 2020

If any of the above is resonating or sounding somewhat familiar, you may be experiencing grief in your own life.  Clearly, the stacked circumstances that have presented themselves in the year 2020 are a multi-layered set-up for grief, if ever there was one. Pandemic losses to deaths of friends and loved ones, job losses, financial stress, school and business closures, limited social engagement, the practice of social distancing, political strife and polarization, systemic racism and grief over oppression and inequality at our country’s core, uncertainty of the future– these are all contributors to the individual and collective grief we are experiencing at present. This is what grief feels like. 



Many Faces of Grief

We can grieve over uncertainty in our lives- individually and collectively.  It doesn’t take a physical death to experience true grief. That being said, the loss of loved ones always tops the list of the widely identified top 5 life stressors. The top 5 life stressors include: Death of a Loved One, Divorce, Moving, Major Illness, Job Loss.  If you are adapting to major life changes outside of your control– and that would be all of us, to varying degrees– you may be grieving. There are many reasons to grieve, and they are all unique and important- significant to the person experiencing the myriad variations of loss or change. 



Coping with Grief

Whatever situation is fueling your grief, here are some things that might help:


  • Talk with a trusted friend, family member or counselor. Stay connected somehow.


  • Be gentle with yourself- Grief requires time and space. Don’t expect yourself to function at full capacity. You won’t see major gains one day at a time. Healing happens slowly.


  • Find a basic daily routine that helps you to retain some predictability and familiarity.


  • Do things you enjoy that might bring comfort: watch a show, exercise, order takeout.


  • Allow yourself to cry, rest, slow down if needed. Limit expectations of yourself beyond the basic necessities and responsibilities.


  • Listen to comforting music, pray, eat food that tastes good, take a walk, light candles.


  • Seek additional/ professional support if grief begins to inhibit your daily ability to function over a prolonged period of time. Know there’s no shame in reaching out for help.  We all need help throughout our lives in various seasons. You’re not alone.



Just Breathe

If you think you may be grieving, remember that grief is a normal and expected part of the human journey.  In this season of life, just navigating our way through our days takes tremendous strength.  As California artist Yumi Sakugawa has so beautifully stated, “Sometimes it’s OK if the only thing you did today was breathe”. This thought alone may allow some of us to heave a deep sigh of relief. Grief changes, ebbs and flows. And whether we can see and envision it right now, or not, there will surely be life and growth and hope ahead.