I don’t really think we will ever find a “one-size-fits-all” theory for grief. I think we grieve in as many ways are there are stars in the night sky. We have similarities because we are human, interconnected, and share some similar experiences.
But we and are relationships are unique.
Think about your parent or your child, your best friend or your spouse…
Does anyone else have the same relationship with that person?
Does anyone else have the same vantage point on this earth that you have?
Does anyone love exactly like you do?
So there are so many different aspects to our relationships and therefore to our grief. These aspects or factors shape our grief, help give life to how we live and cope with it, and how we incorporate it into our lives.
Here are just a few of the factors that can influence someone’s grief:
Nature of relationship –
What was the relationship? What role did that person play? Do you know that you don’t play just one role in someone’s life?
You might be someone’s spouse but you very well may be that person’s best friend, lover, card partner, present hider at Christmas, hiking companion in the fall, etc.
Have there been real hardships in the relationship? Some sort of abuse? Some sort of miracle like a grandchild being born or some sort of tragedy like a house fire or being laid off.
Have you said everything you needed to say? Were there things still withheld that you regret?
Previous losses/current crises -
Who else have you lost? Grieving over the loss of your dad could affect you differently if you’ve already lost your mom. Or maybe your dad was the first (or last) of their generation to die.
What if you lose your mother and your adult child as a life-limiting illness or one parent dies and the other needs care for dementia.
Nature of death -
How that person departs your relationship often will affect how you grieve… Being killed overseas in the military, Dying several years after a cancer diagnosis, Being infected with HIV and dying of AIDS, Overdosing on drugs, Having a massive heart attack in the middle of the night while asleep.
Personality variables -
When it comes to grief, both your personality and the personality of the deceased comes into play… was the person who died larger than life, gregarious? Did everyone know them when they walked in a room (like Norm on Cheers)? Was that person shy and reserved, maybe you were one of the few people that they let get close.
And the same thing applies to the bereft… are you outgoing and have a lot of natural support systems? Are you a “doer” and need to keep busy? Do you create catastrophes or take everything as it comes (go with the flow).
Support System -
Who is there for you now? Have you been married a long time, with a lot of “couples friends”? Are you living across country from your family? Are their family/friend difficulties such as chemical dependency?
Ritual/funeral experience -
Do you feel cut-off from your family of origin’s religious/spiritual tradition? Do you feel like you can’t express your own? Were there difficulties that kept the wake/funeral from being the way the deceased wanted it — such as how the person died and the ability to have a closed/open coffin, etc.
Was the person you loved in the military or did that person go missing and you don’t have the ability to have a burial?
Are you far from your loved one and cannot attend services? Did you and the deceased have very different ideas about what should happen for a memorial or funeral?
Religious/cultural history -
What have we been taught since we were children about dying, death, and how one grieves? What rituals are mandatory? Are we allowed to show are feelings? Are there only certain feelings that are okay to be shared? Do you have any connection to your family culture at all? What happens when your spiritual views clash with your family’s or the deceased’s views?
So when friends and family have deaths in their lives, you know has a loss, remember that their experiences are colored by so many things in their lives. All of what makes them the unique person they are affects how they grieve the loss of a special and original relationship.
Take gentle care not to compare how other’s grieve their losses with your experiences… their losses will more likely be like snowflakes than a bunch of stages that everyone goes through in the same way.
*These factors are discussed in many books such as those of Theresa Rando or Bill Worden. But, I have elaborated on them here as I do when I speak to groups and staff about grief.