How we express grief and why it matters

Originally featured 18th July 2018 on

When it comes to human emotions, grief is probably one of the most prevalent that we experience and perhaps the most unique in how it manifests for each person. Bryan McCartney from McCartney Family Funerals takes us through the importance of expressing grief.

Grief is a personal journey and it is caused by so many things – the loss of a loved one, the loss of a pet, the loss of a job, the loss of independence, and so many other things. The constant for grief is that it usually begins to surface following loss.

Loss is something that we are all faced with at one point or another and it is something that is difficult to cope with, especially when the loss is sudden, unexpected or tragic. Loss comes when we lose someone we love, or something that is important to us. It hurts, it’s disruptive, it can be damaging, and it can affect us in ways that we never thought possible.

There are some fairly typical or ‘normal’ expressions of grief, like periods of sadness, ruminating on past events and what may happen in the future, feeling overwhelmed by everyday tasks, depleted energy and a lack of desire to do the things that would usually bring us joy and happiness. All of these things are completely normal and are expected reactions to loss and demonstrations of grief.

Expressions of grief

Grief is more than just being sad or down though. It can cause immense physical pain and distress and in addition to feelings of sadness, it is a normal process to experience feelings of hurt, anger, denial, guilt or despair.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross was a pioneering psychiatrist in near-death studies, writing the well-known book titled, On Death and Dying. She defined five phases of grief as a pattern of adjustment and this model is now well referenced and commonly used by mental health practitioners across the world to assist those suffering from grief. She clearly defined these phases as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. While we can sometimes see a clear pathway of people moving between the phases, usually we are in a swing type of momentum and we go back and forth through the phases of grief until we reach a point where we are okay with our situation and we find a way to move forward, otherwise known as the acceptance phase.

Grief is an important human emotion, it reminds us that we love. While it can be a painful experience, it is one that is valuable and shapes us in the long run. As funeral directors, the question we are often asked is ‘How will I ever get past this?’ and that is a great question, unfortunately, there is rarely a great answer.

What we do know is this: one day the pain won’t be so raw, it won’t hurt so much, and it will become bearable. From there, it grows from being bearable into being manageable and from manageable it becomes something that is always part of who we are, but eventually stops driving our decision-making process. The feelings of grief never go away, they slowly subside and reduce, but they are always with us in one way or another.

The importance of grieving is highlighted when we lose someone we love, and it comes time to plan their funeral. Across the funeral industry, we see an increase in direct cremations, where there is no ceremony or service for the person who has passed. While financially this may be a good option for some, from a grief perspective, we lose a step in the process of closure.

The role of funerals in the grieving process

A funeral is more than just a ceremony, it helps us to start the grieving process and to come to terms with the loss that we have experienced. While it can be painful for some to participate in or attend a funeral, the components that make up the funeral service are hugely important in the grieving process.

A funeral gives an opportunity to celebrate life and that is a great way to remember times of joy and happiness, to smile, to laugh and to appreciate the impact that a person has had on us. It also gives us a chance to forgive, to leave any wrongdoings, upset, anger and hurt behind so you can focus on the positives and move forward with living. It reminds us that we are still living and allows us to appreciate all that we have in life – friends, family, joy, happiness, sadness and every other emotion that we have. Most importantly, it helps us to face our own mortality and while that may feel unnecessary, it is something that helps us to appreciate life, and deal with grief in a healthy and positive way.

Grief is one of those things that can affect us all in so many different ways. It is a powerful experience. It can bring us closer together, it gives us hope. Grief is something that none of us wants to experience in life, but it is something that we all will.

When we grieve, we are reminded that we love, and love is what makes us human.

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