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When Do We Enter Grief?

I was going to include this in the Roundup, but the post needed its own breathing space.  So think of this like the Roundup-lite: one really thought-provoking post on where sadness meets grief.

Inexplicably Missing has a post about invisible grief which brought up a thought-provoking idea that I’ve been chewing on all week.  She writes, “the grief may be unnecessary because I don’t even know if I am supposed to be grieving, because maybe our missing child will miraculously show up one day.”

As I asked in her comment section, is grief something we should wait to feel, separating it from sadness?

Like is grief something we only feel after we definitively know something, or can we feel grief before we know the “end point”?  For instance, it is grief when we know a person is dying, but it isn’t grief when we’re sad because someone is seriously ill.  Isn’t it partially sadness because we’re feeling the bad news but we also have hope?  When there is no hope — when we definitively know — isn’t that when it moves from sadness to grief?

You can certainly grieve points in a journey.  You can grieve that infertility diagnosis (but only after you have one in hand?  Is it grief when you start suspecting something is wrong?) or the end of a cycle.  But is everything else sadness?

Is there a difference?  I personally don’t use sadness and grief interchangeably; I apply them to two very different situations.  But there is this fade point between the two, where sadness passes into grief or grief moves into sadness.

What do you think?


1 Mali { 06.18.17 at 4:36 pm }

I think she was grieving what she had lost – her innocence, the opportunity to be a parent with all her friends, the child she doesn’t have who could be running around with all those friends’ kids. Even if she gets her missing child, she has still lost these things, and is grieving them. As you note, we grieve when someone is dying. Maybe that’s how she feels about her biological child?

2 Mina { 06.18.17 at 6:29 pm }

Hmm. Good question. I am trying to make head and tails of this grief that keeps me captive since my dad died. Right now grief is moving on from being a raw mixture of pain and sadness and anger. There is less anger, a fair amount of pain and sadness. Sadness that ultimately changes me into a dad-less daughter. Which I will be until I die.

I am rambling.

I was sad before my dad died. I am sad now, but grief for me now involves a loss of some sort. I grieved for my daughter, which I have no proof of that she was a girl, but felt it in my heart that she was one. Just like I felt it with the boys. I knew they were boys, the ultrasounds just confirmed that both times.

I’d say sadness is less painful than grieving. It’s what left after the scars heal, maybe. Grieving is painful, not just being sad. It might happen that one grieves before actually losing something or someone. But the end point (real or perceived) is what triggers grieving, I think. The irreversibility is what makes it painful, actually. And irreversibility is reached after an end point.

I’m curious if I still feel the same in the future. I might revisit this post to check.

Thanks for the shoutout in the Roundup. You also contributed massively in my consciously choosing to be kinder. My life and I as a person owe you much, Melissa Ford.

3 Jill A. { 06.18.17 at 8:57 pm }

I think grief cuts the heart and soul. Sadness can be overwhelming, but it eases. The opposite of sad is happy. The opposite of grief is . . . what? It is not joy, joy and grief can co-exist. Is the opposite of grief ignorance? That something did or did not occur that caused the grief and since it didn’t happen, we don’t grieve?

4 Sharon { 06.19.17 at 3:25 pm }

To me, grief is deeper and longer-lasting than sadness. I could feel sad about something I hear that happened to someone else, but if it has no effect on me personally, that emotion is likely to be short-lived.

Grief is more persistent and, I think, entails an element of loss that sadness does not necessarily include.

5 Inexplicably Missing { 06.20.17 at 8:20 am }

Thanks Mel for this post, I feel quite honoured for your mention! It is an interesting point you raise about the transition from sadness to guilt. Weirdly for me it was quite a definable moment. With the fertility stuff, I was going ok, I had been feeling just a sort of background level of sadness. The realisation that it is “grief” actually came on suddenly, like some kind of negative epiphany, which I actually mention here: http://inexplicablymissing.blogspot.com.au/2017/06/no-need-to-panic.html
So here was the lead in to that moment. I might have been just a little teary this particular day on the way to the clinic… it’s something about driving and having the time to yourself to think. I remembered that when my mum had died, for a few months I would cry every time I was driving. Then, in the parking lot at the clinic, I saw a car which reminded me of my uncle who died late 2016 of acute leukaemia. The last time I saw him, I had visited him in hospital, he raved about this car and what a good deal he got on it. He didn’t know at that stage he was dying, it was all very sudden. So then, I remembered him, with a little pang of sadness… followed on by a weird thought that maybe I could be asking his daughters, my cousins, if they want to be my egg donor one day… I picked myself up to go in for this blood test, but then when I got the test my nurse was telling me about her husband and how he had blood cancer which he was getting treatment for. And somehow all these little threads came together and something hit me in that moment… A massive wave of emotion came over me, and it was then that I realised that the sadness I have been feeling is actually grief. It was like it was dormant there, and for some reason, my body and mind notified me that this was going on, with that jolt of feeling and trail of memories.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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