Grief – a Journey Rather Than a Destination

by Natalie Jensen

Over the last few years, it has seemed that the world around us is full of grief. Whether it’s for the pre-pandemic world, a job, financial security, or the loss of a loved one, grief has become more of a collective experience. And yet it’s also a journey that can be highly personal, and one that we walk alone.

There is a lot of advice out there on how to “handle” or “manage” grief, with the idea that it’s something with a finite conclusion. But the reality is that grief is not something that goes away with time. Rather, it’s an experience that morphs and changes over time. Perhaps it’s more helpful to think of grief as a journey, rather than a destination.

Grief is varied

There is no singular loss that triggers grief for any one person. Certainly losing someone we care about is a major source, but there are so many experiences over our lifetime that can bring about feelings of grief and loss.

A change or evolution in something we hold dear, such as a sense of safety or a goal or dream, can raise those same feelings of grief. Other scenarios include the loss of a pet, a sense of injustice or recovering from injustice, infertility or miscarriage, or the loss of secure housing or stable employment. The triggers of grief are as varied as the human experience and are all equally valid. 

When we experience loss, we may feel numb, disconnected, and in survival mode all of the time. We cry every tear we thought we had and feel restless, inconsolable, have increased irritability, or a lack of patience for everyday things. People experiencing loss may find themselves uninterested in the things they used to enjoy while others may try to keep overly busy with work or other responsibilities. Some find they can’t sleep while others sleep the day away and can’t muster the energy to do anything else.

All of these responses are valid because they are our individual and personal experiences. There is no “wrong” or “right” way to experience grief or one experience that is “better” or “worse” than another.

Grief is a journey

Grief can sometimes be an uncomfortable or taboo topic to discuss openly which can result in a desire to put an end to the pain and suffering. We often hear platitudes such as “time heals all” or “seeking out resolution or closure.” While well-intentioned, this guidance can actually be harmful to the grief process.

We live in a solution-oriented society, where we’re quick to seek out ways to end painful feelings or experiences. But the truth is, a grief journey can be an uphill marchone that is difficult and ever-changing. Both personally and professionally, I have had the honor of walking alongside individuals who have pushed back on the traditional concepts around grief. As the expert on their own experience, grieving people often say they don’t feel they will ever get over it. 

So perhaps we can consider a different approach to griefone of a journey rather than something to be solved or completed. A journey indicates continuation, meandering, and even change over time. This concept gives us room to grow toward something rather than arriving at a destination where we’re “done” and will never feel that grief again.

As many people who have experienced grief can attest, those feelings don’t go away. Instead, they feel bursts or waves of grief or are reminded of their loss at a seemingly random moment. For many individuals, leaning into those moments of grief with compassion and awareness can help them honor those feelings. And in honoring those feelings, we can begin to integrate our grief and loss, which can be a more realistic way of approaching grief. Rather than willing or wishing it away, we can learn to accept it as just one piece of the experience of being alive.

Grief is inevitable

Grief and loss are part of the human experience and are feelings that we all experience at multiple points in our lives. While grief hurts and can be difficult to process, we can grow from these experiences, and even learn to better savor the joyful moments of our lives. Grief is not a linear journey, nor does it look or feel the same for everyone. However grief affects us is valid and deserving of our compassion, attention, and kindness.

Everyone at some point will suffer a lossthe loss of loved ones, good health, a job. It’s your desert experience—a time of feeling barren of options, even hope. The important thing is not to allow yourself to be stranded in the desert.”

Patrick Del Zoppo

Integrating grief and loss into our lives is hard work, and it’s understandable that some individuals could find this challenging or even off-putting. But the good news is that we don’t have to walk this journey alone. Seeking professional support to navigate the ups and downs of loss can provide us with the tools and resources needed to manage and process our grief.

Getting help with grief

At Sunstone, we’re starting a group called “Grief, Loss, and Life” that will devote time to individual grief journeys through the lens of integrating, rather than “solving” grief. This group will offer a non-judgmental and safe space for anyone experiencing grief, whether from the loss of a loved one, a pet, a relationship, or any other trigger. This is a space to truly honor and process the individual experiences of grief. 

If you’re experiencing grief or loss, know that you’re not alone. You can find more information on how to join our grief support group here. Please join us to talk through your grief journey and find your way to a brighter tomorrow.

“When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.”

Henri Nouwen

Filed under: Grief, Group Counseling

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