A Grief Support Blog

This blog will allow you the opportunity to acquire both support and guidance after experiencing a significant loss.

The Best Grief Definition You Will Find

Updated December 17, 2019

Since grief is such a wide topic that covers so many kinds of losses and an almost infinite range of emotions, there isn’t a single grief definition that covers it all. We use three to help people understand what is grief and what it isn’t.

The most basic to define grief is:

“Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. Of itself, grief is neither a pathological condition nor a personality disorder.”

While this definition is accurate, it doesn’t really explain what grief is. So here’s another one we use to give a better idea of what grief is, beyond the fact that it’s normal:

“Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”

When someone important to us dies, it represents an end to what has been familiar to us, and we must adapt to that new—usually unwanted—reality. Our lives are different after someone meaningful to us dies and that’s fairly easy to understand.

It may be a little less obvious to understand what we mean when we say “conflicting emotions.” Let us explain, using circumstances you’ll probably understand if you’ve ever been a primary caretaker to someone who was afflicted with a terminal disease, like cancer. If not, you’ll probably still be able to relate to what we mean by conflicting emotions.

For most people who’ve been in that situation, the primary emotion they feel when that person dies is a tremendous sadness. Part of the sadness is about the irrevocable fact of the death of a loved one, and another aspect is that a miracle didn’t happen to cure the illness and allow more time together.

But in addition to the sadness and other painful feelings involved, a huge percentage of people who’ve attended to a dying relative, spouse, or friend over a long period of time, will tell you that one of the feelings they felt when that person died, was a sense of relief. Relief that the person they loved was no longer in pain; and relief at the difficulty of seeing someone they loved in pain and the frustration of not being able to cure them or ease their pain.

Relief is often perceived as a somewhat positive feeling, especially when it comes at the same time as sadness. So the idea of conflicting feelings, in simplest terms, is sadness on one hand and relief on the other.

However, the idea of conflicting feelings isn’t limited to death and the entire range of emotions, including sadness and relief. We suggest to anyone who’s ever gotten married that their wedding day probably contained a conflicting mixture of feelings. There’s the love and excitement and high hopes on the one hand, and there’s the loss of certain freedoms and independence on the other. Even if it’s a good trade-off, it still represents a loss.

We can even move away from death and marriage and talk about conflicting feelings in other life areas. For example, when you get a promotion and raise in salary at work, that’s a good thing. But along with the change may come an end to some or many of the daily interactions with co-workers in your old position.

As you can see, our definition using conflicting feelings relates to most—if not all—of the major life changes that can and do happen. At this point, we can tie the first two definitions together and say that the range of emotions—including those that seem to be conflicting—that we feel in response to the changes in our lives, are normal and natural.

Grief is an emotional experience

Grief Definition—Reaching Out For Someone Who’s Always Been There

There’s another definition of grief that’s so descriptive that we include it an all of our books, and usually quote it every public speech we make. It’s language that we didn’t create and if we knew who first said it, we'd give them credit.

“Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who’s always been there, only to discover when I need her [or him] one more time, she’s no longer there.”

We find that statement to be profoundly emotional and exceptionally clear in its meaning. We believe that the person who coined it was referring to the death of a long-term spouse. But it could just as easily apply to the death of a parent, who was clearly there from the beginning of your life.

As poignant as that statement is in giving words to feelings, it can be reversed and used for a different painful situation; as when a long-term relationship has never been good, in which case it can be stated as:

“Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who has never been there for me, only to discover when I need them one more time, they still aren’t there for me.”

In that situation, it doesn’t imply that the other person has died, but is still emotionally or otherwise unavailable to you, as they’ve always been.

Lastly, in the case of divorce grief can be restated as: 

“Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who had been there for me at one time, only to discover that I can’t go to them for help or comfort anymore.”

One More Grief Definition—A Cliché With Which We Agree

Most people are familiar with the expression, “Everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace.”

We agree with the basic truth of that quote, even though it doesn’t define grieve beyond saying that we’re all individuals and we will each experience and express our grief uniquely and in our own time.

Summing Up

There are many other definitions of grief that you can find if you want to spend time researching. But we caution you that defining basic grief, while important, doesn’t necessarily lead to recovery or completion of what the death or divorce has left behind in terms of unresolved or incomplete grief.

If you found this article, The Best Definition of Grief You Will Find, helpful. We encourage you to read other articles we’ve written on this topic:

The Many Names for Grief

Why society will use any word but grief. Grief Recovery can help in dealing with PTSD

We also have several FREE eBooks you can download today from our website. Below are two you may find helpful:


Grief group online




I am part of a group giving a seminar on grief and I believe you have info that can help to explain the process.
very good definitions here for me,reaching out for someone never there or teaching out for someone always there...neither no longer...
I appreciate so much all the support from the institute as I begin my Outreach Groups.
all the above makes sense people who attend my GRM support groups or one on one warm up to them
I had 6 deaths in 8 months.
Tracy, I just wanted to tell you, I heard you, and I am so very sorry that you have been pummeled with so many losses at once. You are in my thoughts and prayers. May today be a little easier than yesterday. ❤️
I lost my fiancé a year and 10 months ago and I still struggle daily to function normally. You're article made some great points and I agree with them all. I too have a heard time accepting that this loss is real and permanent. I often write poetry about our could reuniting and being together again. My head knows he's gone but it feels like me heart will not accept it. I felt like the main attraction at the zoo for a long time. Talking about my fiancé was something I desperately needed to do, but family and friends either feel uncomfortable doing this because it makes them think about their own mortality and or/ they worry that it will bring more sadness. I needed my feelings to be validated not ignored. Another thing that I'm dealing with stemming from the loss is insomnia. It's gotten to the point where my life is dependent on if I was able to sleep or not. Looking forward to this subscription! .
Marisa - My heart goes out to you for the loss of your fiance. The things about which you have written are very normal for a griever. Sleep (or lack of sleep) issues are common as well. The Grief Recovery Method has at its core the opportunity to deal with the unfinished business in relationships and those things that you feel the need to say. I sincerely hope that you will check to see if there is a group in your areas that will support you in taking the needed actions to be able to enjoy your memories, without constantly reliving that pain of loss. If you go to https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com/grief-support you can easily check for Grief Recovery Method programs in your area.
Thank you very much , I am medical student in Saudi Arabia and we have PBL about grief and depression so thank you again .
Reading peoples comments about insomnia after loosing my soulmate made me consider subscribing I didnt know the sleeplessness I deal with was connected to my grieving.
Stef - insomnia is, indeed, a common body response to grief. When you try to relax and sleep, your mind wonders and you start thinking of all of those things that you wish you might have done during the day. When you are dealing with the loss of someone as important as your "soul mate," all kinds of things can come to mind concerning plans for the future, which is not the same future you had planned to share together. You also tend to think of those things that were left unfinished, because you had planned on those tomorrows together. I am so glad that you found this article to help you understand the relationship between grief and sleeplessness. Please consider purchasing a copy of "The Grief Recovery Handbook" and looking for a Grief Recovery Method Support Group in your area. Help is there for you to get through this.
Hi Steve, I'm not sure why I'm just now seeing this. Maybe I needed to be in a place where I am ready to move forward. I'm never moving on but I know I have to move forward and I know that's what my fiancé would want me to do. As I've been looking, I've noticed that there is a lot of help out there for general grief and for widows specifically. It seems like those who have lost their significant other and are under 40 haven't found much of a voice. Do you have any information on this or know of any websites that might help me on my journey? Thank you for responding and I will defiantly check to see if there are any groups in my area.
I lost my husband of 42 years, 6 months on Jan. 30, 2018. My 32 year old son found him on a Sunday afternoon locked up in his shop hanging. He was 60 years old with hepatitis C. He had gone through 2 1/2 rounds of treatments through the years that left him depressed and changed mentally. He was always a drinker and he was a very independent. When he wanted to go somewhere by himself, he did and when he just plain did not want to come back home, he didn't. I also noticed that he was not drinking as much but he was getting high. When I knew something He was on drugs full time. For three years I prayed and tried to encourage him to get help but the more time went by, the more addicted he became and the more he drank. The day my son found him in his shop, I heard him come him early that morning. He took a shower, took his sleeping medicine, like always, then walked to our bedroom. I was sleeping across the hall with my grandson. Our 2 and 4 year old grandsons were here for the night. Gary would always sleep with one and I would always sleep with the other. I thought he went to sleep. A couple of hours when I got up, I noticed that he was not in the bedroom and our side exterior door was opened. His truck was parked outside and his four wheeler was still here. I looked outside but there was no site of him. I called my son and daughter to see if they had heard from him but they no. They were not worried because they knew how he was. I thought maybe someone had picked him up to go and work on a job because he had been preparing for one the night before. My son finding his dad hanging cold and lifeless, feeling helpless because he was too late and my daughter and I just seeing this once lively man's lifeless body hanging right there in his shop. All day I had been worrying about what had happened to him because he wouldn't answer his phone. All I do is cry. I miss him very much. I can't sleep. My son has been put on blood pressure medicine because now all of a sudden his systolic and dystolic pressures are very high. My body has been taken over by this infection for three months now, twice where I could not even walk and once had to go to ER due to elevated body temperature. Through blood test, doctors have determined that this infection is still inside my body, so they are sending me to a rumatologist
Janet - Grief often impacts people's health. When you are dealing with heavy emotional stress. which certainly describes grief, your body is less able to fight illness. High blood pressure is another typical response related to grief. I am so sorry that all of your have that last memory of your husband hanging in his workshop. That must have been overwhelming for everyone. It is common, with tragic deaths, that that horrible final memory gets in the way of being able to enjoy the fond memories before those health issues that led to the substance abuse and, finally, the death. I strongly encourage both you and your son to get copies of "The Grief Recovery Handbook," and to check and see if there is a Grief Recovery Specialist, Certified in the Grief Recovery Method in your area to help you in dealing with the emotional pain of his death. I know, from working with others who have dealt with similar situations to yours, that this approach and recovery program can really make an enormous difference for you. Know your are all in my thoughts, Steve

I agree grief is a wide topic and full of Infinite range of emotions, where people go through when they lose there loved one, it is important to understand what kind of grief there are going through. Different people have a different way of expressing there emotions and feelings we just have to understand and be there for then in there a hard time.

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