What Is Grief?

Katie Rössler
4 min readSep 10, 2020
Photo by Aliyah Jamous on Unsplash

I sat down and pondered this question during the beginning of the pandemic: “What is grief?” As we saw the world start to grieve together at the same time, I noticed not everyone understood that what they were feeling was grief.

Grief tends to be grouped with physical death and because of this it keeps so many from fully understanding their emotions during difficult and challenging times.

I believe we need to start talking about what grief really is to change its negative reputation and normalize it. Where our world gets grief wrong is that the definition for grief in the dictionary currently is “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.”

First of all, it’s using a vague emotional description by involving the word “distress.” We assume, “okay, well, I don’t feel distress, so I’m not really grieving then.” It’s misleading unfortunately. Distress has it’s own stigma attached to it.

Second, it assigns grief to be mainly linked to the death of someone. I struggle with this because I know I’ve experienced grief throughout my life and it wasn’t always because someone died. Frankly, I don’t like this definition, if you couldn’t tell, and I’m ready to change it.

It’s time for us to have a better understanding of what grief is. It’s a natural and normal experience of emotions that we all have after a loss of any kind or a life challenge. Anyone gone through life challenges lately? I know I have!

I feel like the last six to eight months have been a series of life challenges for the world. Since the majority of people are going through difficult times, this means we all will face some form of grief at some point. If I had to define grief differently, I would say:

“Grief is an experience based on our attachments where we learn to let go of holding on to such tight dreams and expectations of how life should go and move towards greater growth and acceptance of how it is.”

Losing someone or something, having a major life change, and even going through a rite of passage with this new definition shows that all of it can cause grief. For me, grief is an experience. It’s a journey. It is not a one and done. It’s not a one year of grieving, and then, we’re over it kind of thing. It is a journey that is lifelong and certain experiences make it more intense at different times.

As soon as you’ve been touched by grief, you will always be touched by grief because, over time, you learn how to integrate it with your system. However, grief becomes a problem for us when we start to fight it and when we believe it shouldn’t be there.

When we try to escape grief, we begin to develop an escape addiction. This is what can cause us long term issues with grief that impacts our health and well being. Grief is linked to suffering because of this. Grief is challenging, but the emotions we experience and our thoughts and beliefs systems about those emotions are what causes the suffering.

I have watched my almost six year old go through grief over the last 22 months since my mom died. She came into the bathroom one morning crying, saying “I miss grandma.” My first thought was: “Oh my gosh, do you really understand what that means?” Of course, I didn’t say that to her though. I wrongly had thought grief was a more mature experience, but I learned very quickly the truth.

My daughter was going through grief and it took her time to process it all. What I noticed, however, was that she never said, “Oh, I don’t want to feel this way,” “I don’t like crying,” or “ I’m going to go do something else so I don’t think about it” like so many of us do in adulthood. She sat with it, we sat with it, and I just allowed her to cry and use whatever words she needed to to share about what was going on inside of her.

It was her experience. It was her journey. It was her grief.

When you’ve been touched by grief, you feel it. You experience it. It changes and shifts who you are by making you more empathetic to the world outside of you. You experience gratitude in a new way. This only happens, of course, when you actually go on your grief journey.

So, what is grief? Again, for me, grief is an experience based on our attachments where we learn to let go of holding on so tight to dreams and expectations of how life should go and move towards greater growth and acceptance of how life is.

It doesn’t matter, then, what loss or life challenge it is or how big or small it is. Grief is an experience we’re all going to have, and it helps us grow.

I hope we can start to shift our mentality about what grief really is so that we start to break down the stigma and the desire to avoid and escape it. It’s important that we start to help each other and heal each other through our grief versus put each other down and say things that end up hurting each other when people around us are grieving.

If you find you are in a time of grief based on this new definition, I have a wonderful resource to support you that can be found HERE.

If you are a healer and supporter to others and need support in your own grief process, join The Lotus Project starting in October. Learn more HERE.

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Katie Rössler

Author, transformative grief guide, and licensed counselor. Get the book The New Face of Grief on Amazon. Find more resources at:www.katierossler.com