How does grief work?

My friends experiencing loss and members of my grief group all have different answers. One friend compared her grief symptoms to waves from the ocean, sometimes gentle, sometimes fierce, but they usually came in sets. Another friend compared her grief symptoms to being raped by a gorilla. She said, “You never know when the gorilla is going to grab you and have its way with you.”

I can relate to both explanations. The bottom line being that we are all trying to make sense of grief’s complicated emotional landscape.

The Heartlight Center gave me a Grief Wheel hand-out one night and I found peace in its reasoning. The Grief Wheel, created by the Grief Education Institute (Denver, 1986), explained that it is normal to be emotionally spread all over the map within one’s grieving process. There are four main phases that a person can move through in a non-linear manner: shock, protest, disorganization, and reorganization. Non-linear meaning that one will step or leap forward and backward between the phases at any given moment. In my video, I tried to capture the cyclical and erratic movement through the phases of grief.

As life carries on, emotions get to play themselves out, and the wound begins to heal, one ultimately steps off the wheel to embrace life again. However, visits back to the grief wheel are inevitable. Environmental circumstances may bring up an old memory like the smell of pie, a song on the radio, or seeing someone else experience loss. Grief is a normal reaction to such flashbacks and it is important to acknowledge and appreciate memories as they arise.

Remember, one’s grief is an indication of one’s capacity to love, which I believe to be the whole point of life. If you are not grieving, you are not loving.