That “Grief” Word

This past last year I worked in a traumatic brain injury clinic administering assessments for active duty military. Often I’d pick up on a service member sharing conflicting emotions regarding a loss (or plural: losses). They could be processing a job transition, a new duty assignment, a deployment, break-up or divorce, loss of health or limitations after a brain injury, etc. I’d listen and reflect back to them saying, “It sounds like you may be grieving” to which they’d respond, “No no no, I’m not grieving. I’m just distracted / confused /  angry.”

Sometimes I hear my mommy friends say, “My kid is having behavior issues. He’s having a rough time with this deployment…” In my head I’m thinking, “Your kid is grieving!!”

Today a friend emailed me to say she finished a HUGE (and wonderful by the way) documentary she has been working on for years. She is feeling happy that it’s over, but also “weird” and “like, what’s next?” She is grieving the ending of a big project!

Often we do not realize that these simple losses or transitions are GRIEF issues.

I’m wondering if the word “grief” is an uncomfortable word for a lot of people? Or is “grief” most commonly associated with the death of a person? Or the usage of the word “grief” feels too dramatic to use in referencing general losses?

The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as “the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”

With that definition, grief must be normal, yeah? Because living in this world will always bring pattern changes. Grief is not limited to the death of a person. If you stop and think about all of the transitions you’ve faced in your life, what situations stick out to you? Divorce? Break-up? Infertility? Deployments? Retirement? Moving? Neighbors moved? Favorite teacher left? Co-worker transition? PCS? Re-homing your pet? Not making the volleyball team? Rejection after a date?

Two days ago my husband (active duty military) realized his truck had been broken into over the past weekend. His gym bag and his flight bag were stolen right out of his truck (in our own driveway!) He has been moody (and pissy) since then. Although we are grateful that we are all safe and yes, it could be worse and blah, blah, blah — the man is grieving! There is probably very little monetary value in the items that were stolen.

​He accidentally took the wrong interstate exit to work today – describing feeling “distracted and upset.” Having poor concentration is one of the number one signs of GRIEF. He doesn’t need to hear from me that “it could be worse” or “we can replace your gym shoes.” He needs to feel heard and supported during this short time of grief. I assure you, this “time” will be momentarily if he is able to feel upset without judgment. (I’ll talk more about the “stages of grief” and how that’s misunderstood in another post!)

“Support” is just listening, by the way. It does not have to be a dramatic candle-lighting ceremony for his flight bag. You’d be amazed at how just being a “heart with ears” can help a person grieve and feel “complete” after a loss.  I’ll also go more into “completeness” in another post.

In closing, grief comes in many shapes and sizes. Yes, a gym bag and a flight bag may seem silly. I am not comparing this to infant loss or death of a loved one by any means. But if you look at the definition of grief – it’s a LOSS of any kind. And it deserves a moment of support without judgment or advice.

My goal with this post is to expand our understanding and usage of the word “grief.” There will be more to come as I’m inspired by the grievers I meet on a daily basis.

​Thera Storm, LCSW

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