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Learning How to "Talk Grief"
By Harriet Hodgson

I'm a grief writer and know lots of grief words. After four loved ones died, however, I realized I had to learn more. Adding to my grief vocabulary helped me to understand research. New grief words and terms also helped me to understand my journey. Most important, these new words and terms helped me evaluate my grief.

The National Cancer Institute, in a website article titled "Loss, Grief, and Bereavement," defines some basic grief terms. Grief is defined as the normal process of reacting to loss. Bereavement is defined as the time after loss, a painful time of tears and fear and sadness. Mourning is defined as the process of adapting to loss. But multiple losses complicated my grief process and that is why I kept learning how to "talk grief."

New words and terms helped me to see that my grief was normal. Unfortunately, some people go through complicated mourning. Vamik D. Volkan, MD and Elizabeth Zintl discuss this kind of mourning in "Life After Loss: The Lessons of Grief." Two types of complicated mourning caught my attention: denial and perennial mourning. Denial is self-explanatory; you cannot accept what has happened. Perennial mourning is more complicated. "Perennial mourners are locked in a chronic review of their lost relationship in a an attempt to find resolution to it," the authors explain.

One of the most unusual terms I learned was "absent grief." These people are incapable of mourning so their grief is unresolved. Volkan and Zintl also talk about perennial mourners, people with severe grief that becomes depression. Thankfully, I was not a perennial mourner, absent mourner, or a mourner in denial.

Grief counselor Bob Deits, author of "Life After Loss: A Practical Guide to Renewing Your Life After Experiencing Major Loss," sees grief in two ways -- healthy and distorted. He describes grief as the "nuclear energy of our emotions." That is why it is important for you and I to evaluate our grief. Evaluating was not an easy thing to do, but it is a necessary thing.

Judy Tatelbaum defines many grief terms in her book, "The Courage to Grieve." Delayed grief is one of these terms. I know people who have delayed their grief for years and it is unhealthy. As Tatelbaum explains, "Delayed grief is the pushing aside of feelings at the critical early stages of mourning to be dealt with at some future time." Delaying may keep you functioning, she goes on to say, but it leaves you open to an emotional explosion in the future.

From my standpoint, there is no better time to cope with grief than now. Naturally, I worried about myself when grief triggers, like the first anniversary of death, pushed my recovery backwards. I felt better after I read a Mayo Clinic website article, "Grief: Coping With Reminders After a Loss," and its assurance that grief triggers are normal. Now I watch for triggers and prepare for them.

The grief and bereavement field has its own language. Nobody -- not me, not you -- wants to learn to "talk grief." Still, we must face the reality of what has happened. The reality is that you have lost a dear one, someone you will miss forever. Learning new grief words and terms will help you stay on the recovery path. In time, your words of sorrow will become words of joy. Please believe me when I say this, for I have found it to be true.


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