The Point of Grief

I heard someone ask the other day, “what is the point of grief?” She explained that she had lost someone close to her a few years ago, and still she did not understand why she grieved so much, why the pain was so deep, or why grief still hurt.

She got me thinking on that question, what IS the point of grief?

I know what it is to experience grief, to walk down that road and wonder if it ends, to question everything I thought I knew about love and loss.  So, I want to journey together with you and explore some of the reasons we grieve in the first place.

1.     Love

I think there is no greater purpose to grief than love.

Grief highlights that we have loved, and we have lost.

Whether that is through death, through a relationship breakdown, or through a change in life circumstances; we grieve because we have loved someone or something, and we have lost it.

It is love that creates a special place in your heart for your loved one, and it is love that shapes that place into the exact characterisation of the person you have deemed worthy of that love. But then loss comes visiting, and it takes away that person. Suddenly, you have a hole in your heart which was specially designed for that person – including the way you used to think and talk.

It is no wonder then, that you grieve; because no one else is going to fill that hole, because it was not designed to fit anyone else but them.

2.     Acknowledgment

Following on from love, I think it is apt to say that we grieve in order to acknowledge that we have experienced a loss. It is a known tradition, across cultures and countries, to acknowledge the loss of a loved one by having a funeral; herein which other traditions come to the forefront to acknowledge loss, such as wearing black, or having car headlights on when driving as part of a funeral procession. These traditions, and variations of them, serve the purpose of acknowledgement. I will say it again here, it shows that you have loved, and you have lost.

Grief becomes a season, it tends not to be a fleeting emotion – here one moment, and gone the next. Grief is more enduring than that, and throughout that season there will be times where you have to face up to it and acknowledge it.

You might be filling out a form, and suddenly you go from “married” to “widow/er”; you are now “one” instead of “two” on a census.

These are all small acknowledgements of the grief you have suffered, or may still be suffering. Perhaps you are like me, and instead you have to say “parent” instead of “parents”, an acknowledgement that I still stumble over sometimes, because even six years on it is hard to believe that I do not have a dad here on this earth anymore.

These are perhaps small adjustments in language, small changes, small steps but they are nonetheless acknowledgements of the love you have had, the grief you have walked. It is a recognition that there is now a hole no one else or nothing else can fill.

3.     Identity

Grief shapes your identity and how you view yourself, how you identify yourself. As above, you may be going from wife/husband to widow/widower, you may lose a friend and in that loss, find yourself struggling with who you are now without them.

Perhaps you have lost a child, and you need to find a way to describe your family unit minus that one precious part; you’ve gone from 3 kids to 2, or 2 to 1, and your whole identity has shifted; because how do you ever reconcile this pain?

You remain a parent, but your family structure is irrevocably changed.

Or maybe you lost that baby that was going to be your number 1, and you grieve and you ache for a stage of life, parenthood, that you are as yet unable to enter.

In this way, grief shapes your identity.

Who are you now, now that you are grieving? Grief still calls you wife, still calls you husband, still calls you parent; because if you were not these things, you would not be grieving now. But grief also calls you by your new identity so that gently, gently it will be a balm to your soul and you can find new life within your new identity.

Psychiatrist Randolph Nesse says that grief is a specialised form of sadness to help us cope with a life-altering event.

Grief, therefore, is an adaptive emotion and an effective way to cope with the loss that has been experienced. It is there to demonstrate the significance of the loss you have experienced, and it highlights how much you have loved, it acknowledges that life will not be the same again, and it starts to create and build a new identity upon which you build your life from here.

By Danielle Myers