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What is normal when I'm grieving?
Changing seasons can trigger feelings of grief. Because the shift can be subtle, I think we often minimize the effect it can have on us, making us wonder what normal is.
The word grief comes from the old French grever, meaning afflict or burden. Our grief can feel like a heavy burden, but it is a natural and normal reaction to loss. It is a complex response that includes not only your emotions, but also thoughts, behaviors, relationships and physical well-being.
There is not a right or wrong way to move through the grief process — everyone is different. There is no timetable indicating that at a certain point we will be over our loss. Just as the seasons blend from one to the next, so do our experiences of grief. Within each of these seasons, there are certain characteristics.
In the summer, our mood can change from a beautiful sunny sky to storm clouds rolling in, bringing thunder, lightning and downpours within minutes. Then the sun comes out again. Sometimes, the seasons seem to be mixed up. You can have a cool day in August that actually feels as though it were October. There may be a snowstorm in May and warm temperatures in January. That, too, reflects the contradictory nature of grief.
It can be a series of what feels like ups and downs or two steps forward, three steps back. Remember, grief does not move us in a linear pattern, but movement and processing is key. I have come to believe that each of us has a built-in monitor that allows feelings to surface as they need to. If we can honor that within ourselves that will be our guide and help understand why everyone is so different.
It can be difficult to make sense of the intense and fluctuating emotions when we grieve. Because grief is a normal response to loss, though, it can actually serve an adaptive purpose, creating a new normal.
Sometimes, grief reactions can become disruptive or don’t lessen over time, and that might be an indicator that additional help is needed, such as speaking with a counselor or attending a grief support group. Remember, reaching out for assistance is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength.
We grieve because we have loved and have been loved. And we will continue to love. That is ours to hold onto and cherish.
Lisa De Sieno is the Bereavement Services director in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.