How EMOTIONAL Is Grief? (Just pull yourself together?)

Listen to this obituary

By definition, grief is an emotional experience. No one escapes grief unscathed. But, resolve to stay positive in the outcomes of your grieving process!

My mother died in 1995 with Alzheimer’s and my brother Harlan passed on from Alzheimer’s disease a little over two years ago. This Fall I plan to walk in the Alzheimer’s walk in NE Arkansas, in their honor. This is an example of a grieving process positive outcome. A cause that’s emotional to me. 

We’ve talked about denial and anger being emotional expressions of the grieving, but what are some others?

James & Friedman in Grief Recovery Handbook list:

1. GUILT. In almost every loss, there are reasons for the grievers to feel guilty. Someone feels they didn’t do enough of the right thing. Or maybe they did too much of the wrong thing. It is rare for someone to acknowledge that they did the wrong thing with intent to harm, but it does happen. This means complicated grief recovery and there may be criminal penalties to pay and psychiatric help may be needed.

2. SURVIVOR. By definition, that is exactly what you are — you have outlived someone else. But the word survivor used in a grief setting often ends up as both a definition and a diagnosis. “Why did God take him/her, rather than me?” The problem in accepting the label of a survivor is that being a “survivor” often becomes an identity! I might add that meeting together with people who’ve had a similar loss is usually a good thing. But usually, this helps in the short term but may postpone dealing with individual issues that need to be confronted in one-on-one counseling.

I had learned about emotions that they need to be suppressed. My family rules said, “That’s not a nice topic, and we just won’t talk about it.” I had to kick that rule out of the invisible sack of emotions and experiences that I carry on my back and plug into loss situations even today 66 years later than my birth.

Passing misinformation from one generation to the next about death, dying, and once again thriving is not done intentionally. The problem is that our grieving rules are better caught than taught. Some of us, perhaps all of us, have old family rules that need to be challenged and amended or discarded. But dare we?

If you are reading this blog, it is not because of what is WRONG with you, but because of what is RIGHT with you. You are being open about your issues of healing and loss, and I commend you for that. Give yourself a hug and a high-five for your effort. 

You and I are not helpless victims in the business of loss. What happens to what happens to you will tell your life’s story. The advice of “Just pull yourself together” is nigh on to impossible. You dare not walk this journey alone.

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Doug Greenway

These blog articles are written by the retired minister and former educator and counselor, Doug Greenway. He'd love to hear from you with your comments, questions, or suggestions for future topics. You may reach Doug at

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