Grief is Not a Disease
By Candis Smith
Ever since we have learned the "task" model of grief, we
have employed the idea that grief is something to cure.
There has been much emphasis on grief using a solution
based medical model. It implies that this is an
extraordinary condition, with definable stages, which
occurs in a measured time frame. Interventions include
medications to adjust discomfort, the avoidance of any
prolonged display of emotion, or unpleasant behavior.
The goal is "recovery" or a return to "normal" or a very
Stop and think about this for a moment. This is the same
general jargon used to treat illness. How did we come to
think of grief as a disease?
It is true, that grieving raises emotions, and can
result in fatigue, changes in appetite, depression, lack
of concentration as well as many other unfamiliar
adjustments. What is also true, however, is that grief
is a natural reaction to the experience of loss. We do
not choose to grieve, any more than we choose to bleed
when we are cut. Bleeding is the body's natural
protective response to a change. So is grief.
When we squeeze grieving into time frames and stages,
describe how it should appear and when it should
disappear, we get the impression that it can be managed
the same way a course of antibiotics will manage an
infection. This perception heightens our fear and
anxiety, which in turn, only makes grief more difficult.
Perhaps for those of us who deal with loss and grief, it
would be helpful to consider a different paradigm.
It looks like this:
Loss and grief are not experiences differentiated from
everyday life. In fact, they are intrinsic human
orientations, We live finite lives in a finite world.
Loss and grief are woven into the fabric of our being.
We have been taught to focus on the pain of grief with
the goal of ending it. This has left a void for reaping
the transformative aspects of grief. It has also left us
with the idea that we are victimized by loss and grief.
Help cannot come from within, but only from outside of
Grief is contextual. It does not happen in a vacuum. All
grief is impacted by relationship and previous loss.
This is true even if the previous loss happened in past
It is very true that grief can be painful. However, this
is not a negative or a diminishment of the self. It
cannot be repaired or fixed it can only be processed.
Fear of grief and fear of loss are natural consequences
of these realities. Transformation occurs when we face
these fears, not when we avoid them.
The paradox of grief and loss is that in the midst of
difficulty, we find our true resources. It is in the
lessons of loss and the process of grief that leads us
to live life more deeply. We can cull the treasures of
meaning, resiliency, compassion and connection, even in
the middle of the most painful experiences.
Grief does not have an end or a recovery point. It is
the process that allows us to adjust to change. It is in
fact, the most normal experience you can ever have.