Different Types Of Grief, Explained: How To Deal With Loss Right Now
In a global crisis, there's a multitude of ways people are dealing with grief right now. People are losing loved ones, but they're also losing jobs, relationships, and celebrations. Even if you haven't lost a loved one to the coronavirus, that feeling of loss is a form of grief.
It's a topic bestselling author and grief expert David Kessler knows well. He's had his fair share of grief at an early age, from witnessing a mass shooting while his mother was dying in a hospital to suddenly losing his 21-year-old son. Kessler then studied with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the pioneer of near-death studies and author of On Death and Dying, and has since become the world's foremost expert on grief and loss.
"Grief is always the death of something: death of a person, death of marriage, death of a pet, or a job loss," he tells me on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. In other words, grief spares no one, and especially during COVID-19.
Here, Kessler explains the different types of grief you might be feeling during the coronavirus, as well as how to cope with it. In a time of isolation and uncertainty, it's important to know that we're not alone in this struggle.
The different types of grief.
Here's the thing: There isn't one type of grief. "You experience different losses differently because you have a different relationship with each of them," Kessler explains.
That said, it's important to know that there is no hierarchy in terms of grief. Every grief is real and valid. Take Kessler, for example: "My son died, but it doesn't mean I can look at a bride who canceled her wedding because of COVID-19 and tell her that her tears don't count," he tells me. "My loss of my loved one stands on its own, and her loss of her wedding stands on its own. Hers doesn't take away from mine, and mine doesn't take away from hers."
In other words, there is no comparing in grief. Whether you experience the loss of a loved one, a job loss, or a canceled graduation, all those griefs are valid and genuine. "Whatever you're dealing with is your worst loss," Kessler continues. "There's no hierarchy."
How to deal with the grief you have.
So, no matter what type of grief you're dealing with, take Kessler's three tips into account when dealing with your loss. As humans, grief is universal—but you don't have to suffer alone:
Let your emotions play out.
In our society, we have all these feelings that are half-felt, says Kessler: "I'm angry, but I shouldn't be angry," or "I'm sad, but I've got no right to be sad." We stuff down those feelings and let them simmer inside of us rather than letting them run their course.
Then when we're finally forced to deal with those feelings (like, say, when there's a global pandemic, and we're stuck at home with nothing but our feelings), it can be quite a nightmare trying to navigate through those heavy emotions.
To help alleviate your grief, Kessler says to let your feelings play out as they may. "You're going to be sad or angry, and it's going to move through you in a few minutes," he says. So don't be afraid to feel your feelings in full—chances are you'll fare better than if you keep them suppressed inside for as long as possible.
"Let those feelings happen," Kessler says. "If you've got a thousand tears to cry, you're not going to stop at 99."
Name meaningful moments.
Perhaps the most important part of dealing with grief is to ultimately find meaning in the experience. It's what Kessler coined as the "post-traumatic growth" stage of grief; you might have experienced trauma, but being able to emerge from it and find meaning is quite the milestone.
"People who can't find meaning in anything have such a harder time in grief," Kessler says, whereas people who are able to name meaningful moments can help you wade through some of the darkness you're experiencing. While it might not take the pain away, it can give you a cushion, as Kessler notes.
It doesn't have to be a big aha! moment at all: "I've seen parents who I've never seen in my neighborhood in their front yards playing with kids," he explains. "Parents don't usually play in the front yard with their kids. That's a meaningful moment from the coronavirus."
Finding meaningful moments, no matter how small, can help you begin to enter that post-traumatic growth state. As Kessler says, "Instead of going through this, you will grow through this."
Connection is everything.
Like most mental health experts, Kessler believes in the power of social connection. From a grief standpoint, he says we need another person to witness our grief. "We weren't meant to be islands of grief," he states.
The problem is, of course, we can't physically be there for one another. And sometimes, words don't help when you're grieving. More often than not, people just want someone to be there because there are no words to say.
That's where virtual connection comes in: "We can't physically be together, but we can virtually hold each other's hands," says Kessler. "It's so important that people don't feel alone when they're physically alone."
So if you're grieving, let another person know that you need time for a Skype or FaceTime rather than a text conversation. You might not even need to chat—that's OK—just having someone be there for you can do wonders.
While Kessler's tips can be helpful for the grief you may be feeling during the coronavirus—no matter what kind—it's important to know that there isn't one "right" way to grieve. There isn't one way that's more healthy than another; we all go through the different stages of grief in different waves, so think of the stages as reference points, not milestones.
And most importantly, be compassionate with yourself, and know that we as humans organically know how to grieve. It's within us: "The right way to grieve is your way. There is no right model. We come from a long line of dead people. If we allow this process, it will unfold—we know how to do it deep within us."
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.