A succinct description of grief is pain and disruption. Of all the things that may be experienced in grief, intense pain is the one that most often makes people question their ability to weather the loss, and motivates them to seek help of some kind. Bereaved people report their pain as physical pain, emotional pain, mental pain, and spiritual pain.
In addition to the well-known “broken heart” and other chest pain, pain includes headaches and back pain, stomach pain and digestive problems, and what are termed “sympathy pains”, experiencing pain where the deceased had pain.
The emotional, mental, spiritual pain is often the worst and most disabling of pain. Harder to describe, people often use metaphorical or poetic language to try to convey their experience, for example “pain that goes beyond the bounds of my body”. People often wonder how the pain does not kill them too.
Pain is commonly a sign that something is wrong, and bereaved people often believe something must be wrong with them as a result of the intense pain they experience. It is natural to want to find a solution to this “problem” and to avoid or get out of the pain.
Unlike other circumstances in our life, the pain of grief is not an indicator of something wrong or a problem. It is an accurate representation of the relationship to the person who died and the fact of their death. The human reaction to the loss and the absolute finality of the death is very often pain.
Contrary to common beliefs about what helps the pain diminish; “stay busy”, “time heals”, “get on with your life”, it is finding meaningful expressions of the grief and receiving acknowledgment and validation that reduce our pain over time. Expressions of our pain that are meaningful relative to who we are, who it is that died, and who the deceased is to us give us relief. This may be sobbing, creating a memory book, poetry, or other art, traditional rituals or other ceremonies, dedications and activities honoring the deceased, and many other things. Acknowledgment of the importance to us of the person who died and his or her death, and validation for our painful and disruptive reaction also ease our pain.
As we actively mourn in this way, pain as a dominant experience in our daily life ends. We most always retain some pain about our loss, and can experience it upon anniversary or milestone dates, visiting gravesites, or in response to other triggers, but the painful grief that has defined our life subsides.
Read more about Grief on the following pages.