GRIEF 101: Is Grief the Same for Everyone?

In short: NO. Grief is not the same for everyone who goes through it. Grief is unique to every Griever. There is no predictable pattern that grief follows from person to person.

Each Grievers’ loss is different because each person going through loss is different:

  • they have different relationships with the people they lose,
  • they come from different traditions that approach death in varying ways,
  • they are living different lives,
  • they handle crises differently,
  • they handle stress differently than others,
  • they have varying coping mechanisms,
  • and loved ones die in different ways.

For Grief Supporters, it is important to honor and respect that grief is a unique experience for each Griever. Avoid telling Grievers that you know exactly what they are going through because you have had friends who have lost mothers, fathers, siblings. This doesn’t mean anything except that you know people who have lost loved ones and nothing more. Grievers know people who have lost parents and other family members as well, but again, the circumstances are different from experience to experience.

This advice also applies to Grievers as well: just because you lost a parent, for example, does not mean you know how a friend is going to react to the loss of their parent.

In his book This Thing Called Grief, Thomas M. Ellis writes,

“Beware the ‘grief expert.’ The only expert on grief is the person experiencing a particular loss at a particular time. You.”

Remembering that grief is unique can save a lot of friendships from arguments about who knows more about grief: the person who just lost someone or the person who knows people who lost someone.

My honest advice: seek support from people who have actually lost someone, skip the middle-grievers. Experienced Grievers have been exposed to difficulties, have struggled with unsupportive Grief Supporters, and, in my experience, were less critical of the grieving process compared to those who assumed the “grief expert” role.


Published by ancarroll

Alexandra N. Carroll is an author, grief advocate, crafter, mother, and partner. She writes on grief and self-care from her home in Vermont. Her forthcoming book concerns how to untangle life-after-loss through the creation of a strong self-care plan.

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