Grieving Without Death


The word grief typically brings up ideas of death and funerals. However, experiencing a loss ranges so much further. Anytime we have something we care about that is unwillingly taken away our brain must go through the motions of grief. Wherever there is love, attachment, or comfort in our lives, loss and grief are the lurking undersides of this. When things shift, we need to grieve the change. Other losses may not have the same finality as that of death but still, we know in our gut – things won’t ever be the same again. Broadening our ideas of grieving can help us understand why we suffer so much when going through a variety of losses.

As with death, sudden, unexpected, or traumatic losses can complicate our natural path to coping. A partner suddenly announcing the divorce, a house burning down, or losing a job can each leave us feeling unbalanced, disoriented, and lost. After death, both practical and existential aspects of grief must be dealt with. Where will we live now? Will I ever feel safe again? How will I pay my bills? Does this mean I’m worthless? As grief swings us between the concrete and abstract problems it often leaves us scrambling.


Denial is a common early response to a loss. The finality of death isn’t matched with all losses and can leave us looking for a silver lining. Maybe they’ll take me back. Maybe it’s not as bad as I thought. Maybe it’s a joke, a dream. Our brain can’t accept our life without the thing we loved. While these feelings are normal, depending on what we do with them can complicate our grieving. We fight to return to the toxic relationship, we ignore the red flags of addiction. Maybe we pretend we never cared in the first place.

With all of the stress of a significant loss it can be difficult to care for ourselves in the way we previously did. Engulfed in our grief, we may start to drink more, eat only comfort food (or nothing at all), and have sleepless nights. Our losses can remove social support – no longer feeling connected with coworkers, our ex’s friends, or friends in a hometown you moved from.

Grief blurs the line between normal and dysfunctional – dysfunction to an extent is a normal response to a loss. However, that does not mean the grief should destroy you. Working through the various complications after any loss is a tall order. Many times having space and time to process everything that a loss brings up is a crucial piece to not only surviving it but being stronger for it

If you are grieving, know that we have trained therapists that can assist you on this path. We’re only a call away.

About Sarah Hazelwood (Confer)

Sarah Hazelwood (Confer), MA, LLPC, studied art and psychology at Grand Valley State University and earned a Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling from Aquinas College. She specializes in grief, loss, terminal illness, anxiety, stress management, self harm, religious and spiritual counseling, pregnancy/prenatal/postpartum, LGBTQ and gender issues, and identity formation and reformation. She sees teens, women, and elderly populations, and is supervised by Rosann Raftery, LPC, at Lifeologie Counseling Grand Rapids Cascade.

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