Employee & Community Health

Understanding grief and loss

5/25/2017 by Sara Sedivy, MA, LP

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Grief and loss are universal. We all experience it. However, there is no "typical" response to loss, since loss comes in many forms. One common myth is that grief is only experienced after a death. Any significant change - whether sudden or gradual - such as loss of a job, change in health status or end of a relationship, can trigger grief symptoms. 

Grief is different form depression, although unresolved grief sometimes can lead to what is referred to as "complicated grief" or clinical depression. It's important to recognize that grief can and often does elicit very strong emotions such as sadness, loneliness and even anger. Most grief experts encourage those who are grieving to seek support from friends, family or a professional. 

One very common question is, "How long does it take to 'get over' grief?" This leads to another common myth about grief: that there is a predetermined timeline for healing. Grief has no timeline and may not be proportional to the event. Sometimes a seemingly trivial loss can trigger intense emotions, which is confusing to many. Other times, a major loss, such as the death of a loved one, doesn't trigger the intense sadness one might expect, which sometimes can lead to feelings of guilt. 

The two most important things to keep in mind about grief are: 

  • It takes as long as it takes.
  • Everyone grieves differently.

If someone you know is grieving a loss, the best gift you can offer them is time. The old adage "time heals" holds true. People do heal, but often are changed forever by the experience of grief. 

An excellent resource is On Grief & Grieving by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who introduced the stages of dying in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying; and grief expert David Kessler. The book helps readers find the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Both are available on the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation website.

Sara Sedivy, MA, LP, is a psychologist in Employee and Community Health's Division of Integrated Behavioral health (IBH). For the past 18 years, she has practiced at Mayo Family Clinic Kasson.