Can I Grieve If Nobody Died?

Woman comforts sad friend on benchAnyone who has lost somebody they love will likely agree the death of someone close usually causes a deep and painful grieving process.

The people you care about typically validate these losses, understand they cause pain, and offer comfort and support. They don’t always give you what you need, but many at least try.

But what about a loss in which nobody died? Does it count as grief?

There are many examples of loss that don’t necessarily involve death, such as:

  • Loss of a career you cherished
  • Loss of a role you played in your community or church
  • Loss of health
  • A loss of closeness to a family member or friend
  • A decline in financial status
  • Divorce

It may be hard to imagine going through one of the above experiences without feeling the pain of loss—also known as grief. If you experience similar circumstances, you may find yourself asking for support and not getting it. Others may not understand the magnitude of your pain, so they don’t validate your loss. Of course, people who have lost someone to death get disappointing responses, too, but experiencing a loss that doesn’t involve a death may feel like you’re doing it all on your own without the support of peers or loved ones.

An Example of a Non-Death Loss

I have a friend who worked for 30 years at the same company. He loved his work and was admired for his kind, helpful demeanor, his intellect, and his ability to get things done under pressure. His coworkers loved him, and his Of course, people who have lost someone to death get disappointing responses, too, but experiencing a loss that doesn’t involve a death may feel like you’re doing it all on your own without the support of peers or loved ones.superiors promoted him. He woke up every day with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose. Then, his company decided to move.

He was offered the opportunity to move with them, but his mother had dementia and lived with him, and his grown son and grandchildren lived near him. If he moved, he would disrupt his mother’s life and be far from his family. He chose not to move with the company.

For the next five years, he tried to find a career that offered the same sense of purpose and camaraderie he’d experienced, but never found it. At night, he’d lay awake missing the people he worked with and the experience of feeling useful. He finally admitted to himself it was time to retire.

Retirement brought another period of questioning his purpose and more time to think about his losses. Then, his mother died and his son and grandkids moved out of state. To say my friend was grieving is an understatement.

5 Tips for Those Experiencing Grief and Loss

What can you do when you experience losses like these to help yourself feel better? Here are some ideas that might help:

1. Name and validate your own emotions.

Acknowledging the story of the pain by writing down what happened can sometimes be a reality check that helps you see you aren’t flawed, but that your circumstances are difficult. One of the most common responses to emotional pain I see is the belief that there must be something wrong with us if we feel so bad. But big emotions will come with big experiences. Acknowledging the importance of the loss and giving yourself a break may help you recover.

2. Be kind to yourself.

Engage in calming or distracting activities such as meditation, do physical exercise that you enjoy, or engage in a connecting conversation with a friend. All these activities not only take your mind off the pain, but offer you a positive experience instead. Positive experiences can work to rewire your brain toward a more optimistic and hopeful focus.

3. Remind yourself of that which makes you grateful.

Making a daily practice of noticing what we’re grateful for helps orient us toward what is already working. The more you think about what is good, the more good you’ll likely find. The brain’s natural tendency is to focus on what isn’t working because you’ve been programmed that way through evolution. Instead, make note of what is good when faced with those grief-drenched days that feel certain to be sad and heavy. It doesn’t have to be limited to big things: the tangy smell of a fresh lemon, your two hands that do so much for you and others, that songbird singing outside your window. Putting your attention on these kinds of small, wondrous experiences can go a long way toward healing after a painful loss.

4. Engage in positive self-talk.

It’s important you not get caught up in blaming yourself or identifying your character “defects” as part of your grief process. Some people naturally gravitate toward self-blame when something goes wrong. Even if there was something you could have done, you’re human like the rest of us. You deserve the same kindness and understanding you would offer a friend. Be careful you don’t make things worse by inflicting negative messages on yourself. Chances are excellent you don’t deserve them, and they’ll only make you feel worse.

5. Talk to somebody who’s a good listener.

If you have a best friend or family member who’s a good listener, you can engage them in some meaningful conversations about your pain. If they grow weary of listening or you’re not quite getting what you need, you can talk to a therapist, who, in many ways, is a professional listener. Therapists are trained to listen objectively and offer support and guidance that can help you find your way out of the morass. Remember, what you’re experiencing is very real, and you don’t have to go through it alone.

References:

  1. Hanson, R. (2007). Your Wonderful Brain. Retrieved from http://media.rickhanson.net/home/files/WonderfulBrain1.pdf
  2. Hanson, R. (2007). Seven Facts About the Brain That Incline the Mind to Joy. Retrieved from http://media.rickhanson.net/home/files/7FactsforJoy.pdf

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Mary Bradley, LSCSW, LCSW, therapist in Kansas City, Missouri

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 10 comments
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  • Bev

    March 14th, 2016 at 10:22 AM

    Any time in life when there is a loss you have more than the right to grieve.
    As a matter of fact when you have lost someone or something that means a great deal to you, then of course it makes sense that you will feel a sense of loss and grief and that this will hit you pretty hard.
    No one can tell you that you are or are not handling anything the right way or wrong way.
    The key is to let yourself handle it in a way that feels comfortable to you, and do it on your own timeline, not that of someone else.

  • Tara

    March 14th, 2016 at 4:28 PM

    There will be times in our lives when there are some things that will hit us harder than others will. Yes, grieve if you feel like you need to.

  • Stowe

    March 15th, 2016 at 10:08 AM

    If there is something that has been a loss to you then you will feel that kind of emptiness. But what if there is nothing tangible that you can pinpoint? I think that then you should find a counselor or a therapist with whom you can talk because you might be experiencing depression and that might ultimately be very harmful for you.

  • Beth Y

    March 16th, 2016 at 7:54 AM

    Find someone that you can trust and confide in and this can make a huge difference in your life. I know that it is not always the easiest thing to find someone that you feel like you can share that much with, but believe me I am sure that there is someone out there who will not mind fulfilling that role for you. We all need someone that we can go to during times like this and who can help you through those rough patches that are always inevitable.

  • Tobias

    March 17th, 2016 at 11:28 AM

    I think that we can all agree that letting our feelings out can be good for the soul

  • Blaise

    March 18th, 2016 at 10:59 AM

    I don’t know, I guess I just have a very hard time with this because for me this is a downer. If you haven’t lost anyone or anything then why would you grieve? For me it seems like there is something very wrong if you are feeling this way, like you need to grieve over something and you might want to get some help. I’m not being negative, but for me there is no need to grieve unless there is a good reason I suppose. Oh well, if it makes you feel better but I just am not so sure that it would me.

  • Madelon D.

    March 18th, 2016 at 11:02 PM

    Great article. Right on in all aspects. Excellent. Thank you very much. So helpful.

  • S

    March 19th, 2016 at 8:20 AM

    Blaise
    Like the article states, when someone experiences a loss you still experience deep negative emotions. Experiencing a death is traumatic which to me is grief. Experiencing “grief” without a death might not be equivalent, but is still devastating with similar negative emotions (major depression, PTSD). Believe me you don’t need to experience death, to end up in a funk. I have had depression on and off for 30 years. It is a disease and very real! Why do you think the suicide rate is so high?

  • Wayne s.

    January 22nd, 2017 at 9:57 AM

    Lost exwife she died .then my feonsay dump me after 4 years with her she was bipolar and narses personilty dis order .and gave her a lot of stuff and she got married 2 months latter to a nother person .had 5 losses job family member .its not easy .

  • popper

    March 19th, 2016 at 11:02 AM

    It’s these judgments that prompt
    any of us to just keep our mouths shut!
    I can see why folks would have many reasons
    to grieve, even if one isn’t aware of it currently.
    Doesn’t make it invalid, non existent, or no
    reason to feel grief. Please, stop trying to
    pass on guilt to anyone else. Unless you have
    personally been there, you have no idea what you
    are talking about. This passing judgment
    is what prevents people from seeking help.

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