LGI Grief iceberg

How to Respond to Someone Who Is Grieving, Part One

For many of us these are sad times. There have been many losses since the pandemic: loss of feelings of safety, loss of friends, loss of trust, loss of a sense of security about our world, to name a few. And of course, there a losses not related to the pandemic, those that occur as part of our life experiences.

I invite you to consider a few principles of grief and loss. Next week I will share with you some of the healthy ways to respond to someone who is grieving and what to avoid. I have found this information to be life changing. I feel like I can interact with friends, family members, and colleagues who are grieving in ways I know are helpful.

First let’s look at some of the principles of grief and loss. The first one: whenever there is loss there is grief.  A second principle: we can place grief on a continuum going from deep and devastating grief due to the magnitude of the loss to somewhat painful but not overwhelming down to being something that evokes sad feelings but ones that don’t overwhelm and that dissipate in a short period of time.

Third: grief often accompanies trauma. Levine and Klein in Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes state that, “Wherever there is trauma, there is also grief. Grief is the emotion that accompanies loss. Whether the trauma is from a disaster, such as a fire or flood, or from a betrayal, such as molestation or abandonment by a trusted adult, something of value has been lost. Whether it is material, such as a family’s house and personal possessions, or something less tangible, such as the loss of innocence, the sense of the world as a safe place seems to be gone forever.

The Image of the “Grief Iceberg”

When exploring grief and the many thoughts, feelings and sensations associated with it, we can use the LGI Iceberg image to capture the many dynamics of grief. This image allows us to focus on the many visible Outward Behaviors that are reflective of inward experiences of grief: what can be happening in the Emotional and Relational Health layers beneath the surface.

 Outward Behaviors include:

  • crying, sobbing
  • contorting one’s face
  • moaning
  • verbally stating that they are hurting
  • being unable to speak
  • body language: quivering lips, shaking, hunched shoulders, bending over, curling up in a fetal position, holding one’s head, closing one’s eyes as if to shut out the world, putting up one’s hand as if to push someone away, freezing/appearing paralyzed
  • actions such as running away, hiding somewhere, physically and/or verbally lashing out

There may be other observations we can make about Outward Behaviors of people who are experiencing grief. We can also acknowledge that there are people who hide outward expressions of their grief, sometimes purposely hiding it and sometimes not realizing they are doing so. Regardless of the degrees of awareness, it can be very challenging for others to recognize if and the degree to which they are experiencing grief if they hide that outward expression of grief.

When we consider the Emotional Health level of the Grief Iceberg, people who are experiencing grief can experience any of the following:

  • overwhelming sadness
  • feelings
  • broken
  • depleted, exhausted, drained, depressed
  • frozen, paralyzed, immobilized
  • confused
  • shocked
  • victim mentality
  • wracked with emotional pain
  • alone with their grief
  • disconnected from their emotional self
  • out of control, unable to regulate themself
  • unable to think, plan, problem solve

Relationally, a grieving person may experience any of the following:

  • feeling safe with others
  • trusting others
  • inabilities to relate to others, even notice what others might be experiencing, needing
  • inabilities to care for others
  • inabilities to be fair in the ways they give and receive in relationships
  • being authentic, vulnerable, open to relational interactions
  • struggles to give or receive love
  • gratitude for meaningful relationships with others who can be supportive

There may be many other ways we can consider the Emotional and Relational Health layers of any given individual who is experiencing grief, maintaining the awareness that each person’s grief experiences are unique to them.

As you can see, grief is typically a complicated experience for people, with many variations in the behaviors that can be seen as well as what is unseen: the world of one’s emotional and relational health.

Learning how to be an intentional, informed Grief Processor is the subject of my next blog. Meanwhile it can be helpful to take an inventory of your grief and loss experiences. Using the LGI Grief Iceberg can be a helpful tool for exploring your own experiences with grief and loss.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. What memories jumped up for you as you considered the nature of grief? What were some of the emotions and sensations you experienced?
  2. When you consider your own Grief Iceberg what are some of the specifics for you on each layer?  What conclusions can you make about your experiences with this time of grief and loss?
  3. What specifically did you/do you need to help you process that grief?