Common Reactions to Grief

One of the comforting things about being human is that we are both completely unique AND quite the same. This is true with physiological processes (like a physical wound) and emotional processes (such as grieving). For example, if we get cut, we all bleed and the body will go through the normal processes of attempting to stop the bleeding, prevent infection and heal the cut. However, where we were cut (was it the face or arm, our dominant hand or our non-dominant hand?), how we were cut (did you get cut by paper, glass, or saw?), how large the cut was (was it minimal or massive?), and the circumstances surrounding the cut (were we cut doing something we loved or did we get cut during a fight?) make the cut experience unique.

One of the things that can bring us comfort (i.e. help us know that we’re not going crazy) is that we humans can react in very similar ways after a death of a loved one.

One of the first studies of grief reactions was by Erich Lindemann who was the Chief of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1944. After a tragic fire in a nearby nightclub (The Coconut Grove) killed almost 500 people, Lindemann found that many of the 101 family members he worked with had similar reactions after a loss.

He found that many of them had:

  • some kind of physical manifestation of their emotional pain

  • ongoing thoughts or images of the deceased

  • guilty feelings regarding the deceased or the circumstances surrounding the death

  • hostility or anger

  • a sharp decrease in functioning compared to before the loss

Any of these ring true for you? If so, hopefully you will find comfort that you are not alone.