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When Grief Isn’t What You Expected it to Be

Grief isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s highly personal, and it’s often not what you expect it would be. Grief isn’t always all-sadness-all-the-time. Sometimes it’s sadness and guilt and anger all rolled into one, offset by brief moments of numbness, apathy, or even joy. The way we grieve depends on how close we were to the deceased, how we cope with loss, and other unique circumstances. Sometimes you assume you’d react one way but you end up reacting totally differently. The point is, grief is a normal occurrence after loss, and we can cope with it by attending bereavement services in San Mateo and elsewhere.

What’s Expected

If you’ve ever read Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ book “On Death and Dying” from 1969, you know that this Swiss American psychiatrist put forth five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While some people navigate through these in this order, others jump around depending on the person and the circumstances, according to PsychCentral. It’s impossible to fit grief into neat little boxes all wrapped up with a bow. The amount of time you spend in each stage is unique to you. What may take one person two weeks to work through each stage, it may take another person a year or more, jumping in and out of each stage. This book is a reference, not necessarily a rule.

That’s because grief is a highly personal process. The way we work through our grief depends on culture, lifestyle, socio-economic status, religion, relationships, jobs, and previous life experiences. That being said, you can expect to see some basic patterns that come with loss, such as guilt, anger, frustration, sadness, and regret. You’re not in the wrong if you skip around. The point is to embrace your individual experience, allowing it to take you on your own path to healing.

In fact, the American Psychological Association says most people get over loss on their own with time, backed by the right social support and healthy life habits of self-care.

What’s Not Expected

On the other hand, there are many emotions you may go through that you may not expect. Truth is, grief is rife with surprises, and not always the good kind. It can be unexpectedly overwhelming, or it can be underwhelming as well. Some people don’t feel that intense emotion after the loss that they thought they would, feeling unexpectedly numb. It’s this “absent grief” that surprises many people.

The idea in your mind of what grief should look and feel like tends to form early on. Even before you experience any kind of personal loss, considerations such as cultural attitudes, family history, spiritual beliefs, and family norms shape our expectations of grief. On top of that, we are influenced by what we see on TV and in the movies about how we’re supposed to act. However, these can be highly dramatized, manufactured performances that may not gel with what you experience in reality.

Our grief is also shaped by a term called affective forecasting, points out What’s Your Grief, wherein we imagine potential future events while predicting how we think we’ll feel and behave if something were to happen. We all do it and we all do it on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at it. The truth is, we may miss the mark when it comes to predicting not only the intensity but the duration of our reactions to emotional situations. But just because you’re not feeling like you thought you would doesn’t mean you’re wrong or weird.

Grief could take you a long time to come to terms with, on your own terms. You may even hear a well-meaning friend or family member tell you to “get over it” and “move on” when they think you’ve been wallowing too long. They may even judge you if you don’t display the standard signs of grief. But plain and simple, grief doesn’t end in a week, a month, a year or even ever. It’s a lifelong process of coping with grief and learning to live again, which can be confusing for anyone.

Secondary Loss

Sometimes grief hits you later than expected. This is because many people focus on secondary losses and stressors following a loss. You’re too busy taking care of funeral plans, taking care of your kids, learning to take over tasks your spouse used to handle, and much more. You may even find yourself comforting others, such as your spouse’s mother or their siblings, or your own children. You may feel like you can’t stop to grieve your loved one’s loss, and it may hit you later on when the quiet descends and there are no more plans to distract you.

That’s where bereavement services can be a lifesaver.

Contact Home Health and Hospice

We offer a variety of bereavement services for family members and friends who have recently lost a loved one from our hospice program. Contact us at 888-978-1306 to learn more about our grief counseling, support groups, memorial services, and other helpful resources.