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why you don't recognize grief

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

We've been taught that grief is linear. That it is has a succinct 5 stages to move through. It has a time limit, and time will eventually work its way over even the deepest hurt until it's a faint echo.

But what if it's not that simple? What if it's not always the case for everyone?

“What if, that feeling that you just can't place wanders outside of those stages, and doesn't follow that pattern?”

The actual route of grief is a lot like those moving stairs in the Harry Potter Series. Ever changing, unpredictable, turning you around until you've sought so many detours you can't remember the password to your own common room. Or how you ended up on the prohibited third floor dungeon with a troll. Yikes.


Even if you don't know of Harry Potter, that reference is a much better depiction of grief than the picture the media often provides.

The truth: grief, for most people isn't contained in 5 stages. It doesn't have a limited range, and it definitely doesn't have a time limit.

Ever changing, ever moving, and found in even the most unexpected of places. Much like that troll you encountered a few paragraphs up.

One of the best books I've ever read is called The Grief Recovery Handbook, by John W. James & Russell Friedman.

It hit me with a truth so hard that I had to set the book down to process. For a few days.

What I've been taught about grief, the key phrases people use: it's all wrong. Well meaning, but wrong.

Grief is not linear. Grief is not limited to a handful of emotions. Grief doesn't have a time limit.

What I did learn about grief through this book is that I need to set the expectation very early on that I'm going to be confused. A lot. I found out that there were a lot of things I didn't realize I needed to grieve. My first serious relationship ending in high school. The loss of my first dog in the 2nd grade. The loss of a childhood spent with what I didn't know was intense anxiety. The last cookie that I didn't get to eat last week when I came back from my afternoon run.

The main point:

It finally sunk in for me how unreachable that thing was that I had lost. Finding a name for that feeling that I couldn't place was a powerful thing.”


So, dive through that hidden archive of feelings that may dwell outside of the stages of grief. Give the unnamed a name, and whether permanent or temporary, know that it's worth grieving on your terms at your own pace.

Alta Terra Counseling

Alta Terra Counseling is a practice in Boone, North Carolina specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy Practice that is committed to helping both Families, Couples and Individual clients with a compassionate presence to achieve their personal goals. Explore our website for information about our practice as well as endorsements from colleagues regarding our clinical approach.

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