9 Facts About Grief We Bet You Didn’t Know

Grief is one of the most prevalent emotions in the human experience.

Yet, we know so little about it still.

Biologically, there is still so much research and exploration to do to understand how we can support those who are grieving.

Most of the findings on grief out there are stage-based models that are flat and outdated, if you ask me.

Thankfully, we are all starting to learn more and more about grief, every day.

Hopefully, whether you’re a grieving person or someone supporting those who grieve, you’ll learn something new in these 9 facts about grief below:

#1: Grief is not the same as mourning

The Encyclopedia describes grief as “a subjective state, a set of feelings that arise spontaneously after a significant death” and mourning as “a set of rituals or behaviors prescribed by culture’s tradition”. So then grief is more of an emotional state, while mourning is more of a consciously chosen set of action and rituals.

 

#2: In other languages, the words to describe grief are much more descriptive and colored with nuance

For example, in Greek, the word Stenachória, or Στεναχώρια, means:  

“…worry, grief, upset. It’s versatile.” Derived from the words for “narrow” and “room,” but etymologically related to “close” and “chorus,” the word speaks to the experience of being in an enclosed space, where the darkness of the corners feel inescapable”

It sounds like this word could be close to the phrase “choked up” from grief or sadness. We love the depth and descriptiveness other languages use for grief. If you want to learn more words or phrases like this, check out this article by Bustle.

 

#3: More and more scientists are beginning to look at grief and loss as more of a brain injury than anything

Who knew that grief wasn’t just an emotion… but an actual biological process!? I didn’t that’s for sure. Turns out a lot happens to the body, and specifically the brain during grief that’s worth learning about. Here’s what we learned from Discover Magazine

After a loss, the body releases hormones and chemicals reminiscent of a “fight, flight or freeze” response. Each day, reminders of the loss trigger this stress response and ultimately remodel the brain’s circuitry. The pathways you relied on for most of your life take some massive, but mostly temporary, detours and the brain shifts upside down, prioritizing the most primitive functions. The prefrontal cortex, the locus of decision-making and control, takes a backseat, and the limbic system, where our survival instincts operate, drives the car.

This takes the idea of brain fog to a whole new level.

 

#4: Grief also affects other aspects of your health in the first few weeks

In our culture, we often don’t think about or at least openly talk about the impact grief has on your emotional, mental and physical health. Maybe it’s because we’re simply not educated enough on it. 

One grief expert via The New York Times describes the intensity of the health impacts of grief by explaining: “During those first weeks, people have increased heart rates, higher blood pressure and may be more likely to have heart attacks”. 

The article goes on to say that chance of death even rises dramatically while grieving a loved one.

The moral of the story: Be KIND to yourself through grief. Allow it, and seek the support you need.

 

#5: And if you try and avoid grief, it could become even worse

In Harvard Medical Journal, Dr. Bui,  associate director for research at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders and Complicated Grief Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, says:

“[You] may try to resist grief, but it’s important not to ignore these symptoms, as constant stress can put you at greater risk for a heart attack, stroke, and even death, especially in the first few months after losing someone”.

I know, I know, we’re telling you the same thing twice. But that’s just so you realize the importance of feeling your grief, and getting support. 

 

#6: And because grief is so intense on the body, it takes time to heal.

Healing through grief takes time to get our left and right brain talking to each other again, and this takes time. It cannot be done overnight. That’s not how the brain works.

Discover Magazine says it perfectly when they state:

 “We don’t return to our usual activities immediately after heart surgery, yet somehow we expect to bounce back after the mind scramble of losing a loved one.” 

So give yourself time, friend. Lots of time.

 

#7: In the Middle Ages of Europe, grief was a very public, cathartic affair.

Although grief in our culture is something you keep to yourself, and often hidden away from others, this is NOT how grief is treated in other cultures. It turns out grief was treated differently in different time periods too.

According to The Conversation:

In various cultures the outpouring of emotion was not only required but performed ceremonially, in the form of ritualized weeping accompanied by wailing and shrieking. For example, traditions of the “death wail,” which allowed people to cry their grief aloud, have been documented among the ancient Celts. They exist today among various indigenous peoples of Africa, South America, Asia and Australia.

So next time you think you need to keep your grief for yourself, don’t. It’s healthy (and necessary) to share it.

 

#8: In the Victorian Ages, grief was a fashion statement.

One Austrailan Museum magazine describes the mourning period as:

For women during the Victorian period, mourning attire included every conceivable article of clothing as well as hair accessories, stationery, umbrellas, fans, and purses [being black].

Widows were expected to mourn for two years and were allowed to wear grey and lavender only in the last six months of ‘half-mourning’. Children in middle-class Victorian families were required to wear full black mourning clothes for one year after the death of a parent or sibling. Girl’s dresses were often modelled on their mother’s mourning dress.

This might sound super strange and foreign and even a bit controlling, but these types of elaborate grief rituals and practices exist in native cultures all over the world, across all time.

 

#9: Healing grief requires us to acknowledge the pain and also reflect on the relationship with those who we have lost

Healing through grief isn’t easy, and takes effort and work on our end. It may not be possible to rid ourselves of grief or to “heal” grief,  but we can nourish and take care of ourselves through it. This is when we learn our strength and what we are made of. 

One Discover Magazine grief article suggests ideas that have worked for many including, “wrapping themselves in a beloved T-shirt or quilt, visiting the cemetery, journaling about positive memories or creating a photo book or video of life with their loved one”.

“Connecting the loss with behaviors and activities helps the grieving brain integrate thoughts and feelings,” says Helen Marlo, a professor of clinical psychology at Notre Dame de Namur University in California. 

Did you learn anything new here? What other facts do you know about grief you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments below!

 

Offer your families the grief support they need

If your funeral home or business is looking for a way to support those who are grieving, check out our eAftercare platform that plugs effortlessly into your funeral home website. To learn more, click here or call us at (800) 798-2575.

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