All of us experience grief, the universal human response to loss, but for each of us and with each loss it is uniquely individual. This is the paradox of grief. The important aspect of this paradox is the dual needs that it creates for us during a time of loss.
It is important to understand the universal common reactions of grief so that we can see ourselves somewhere within the constellation of common reactions. Knowing and understanding this constellation of reactions helps to “normalize” our personal experience and diminish distress we may experience as a result of the intensity of the grief. When we know and understand common grief reactions, and have others who know and understand, it is a supportive validation of our personal grief reaction. It can help us weather this arduous process. When we can recognize that our personal grief response is shared within our personal community, and the human family, isolation is diminished. The sense of connection to others while experiencing the painful disconnection from the one who has died is a source of great support.
But this is a dual need paradox. As much as we need the reassurance and support that comes from normalizing our grief, our loss and grief response is unique. It is also essential that we honor the unique individual who has died, the unique person that we are, and the unique relationship that existed. We cannot grieve or mourn generically. We experience pain from the fresh wound of being severed from someone who is significant in our life in a personal way. In mourning, it is necessary for memorials, rituals, and expressions of grief to be meaningful and relevant to the person who died and the mourner. The specific relationship and life experience with him or her is what needs to be honored. Who we are; our personality, personal beliefs, memories of the deceased, the time in our life that the loss occurs, the circumstances of the death, and how it has changed us and our life must be taken into account in finding our way through our grief to a life without the one who has died.
The risk of excessively normalizing grief is that we minimize the very personal nature of our connection to others and the significance of the loss. The risk of excessively focusing on the very unique and individual nature of loss is to lose the support and stabilizing quality that comes from linking our personal experience of grief to our shared humanity, which helps to bring meaning and relevance to our loss.
Read more about Grief on the following pages.