The Cycle of Grief: loss of any kind is a harrowing experience, particularly the loss experienced after the death of a loved one. The “hole” or “space” left behind after a death seems to ache. This is the shock that is felt by those still living. The gradual recovery from this shock is known as the grieving process. Many have heard that grief is a process, and many more have experienced it, but what surprises most is that rather than a linear process -a timeline with a definite beginning point and end point- grief is a cyclical process –a spiral that often passes through the same emotions again and again.

Recognizing that grief is a cycle can help those who are dealing with it cope with the ceaseless procession of emotions that keep returning. The phases of grief are well documented- shock, anger, sorrow, and so on. Yet it is the perception of many people that they need only pass through these phases once, like rounding a baseball diamond, before they arrive “home-free”. Unfortunately, when they find themselves struggling with the same feelings and thoughts as before, they can feel inadequate to cope with their grief, or ashamed that they can’t just “get over it”. What’s more, their friends and family may be under the same misconception, leading to a lack of patience with the one who’s grieving. Obviously, this only adds to the frustration and can often interfere with and prolong the cycle.

Though grief encompasses much of same emotions for everyone, each individual grieves uniquely. Where their cycle of grief begins and ends is particular to them. Where the various emotions fall and overlap upon that cycle is also individual. It is pointless and fruitless to compare your grief cycle to another. What is helpful is to know that you are not alone in your feelings, though when and how you feel them is distinct to you.

For some, grief is immediate. It drops like an anvil over them as soon as the loss is realized. For others, it is delayed. Weeks, months, even years can pass before they truly take that first step on the cycle and allow themselves to feel the loss. You might find that after many loops in the spiral, your grieving seemed to reach a definite pinnacle or end, where much of the emotions you experienced could be respectfully left behind you. Or, you might instead feel yourself cycling back through the pattern of loss throughout your lifetime, though the loops in the spiral seem to grow larger and farther apart. There is no wrong or right way to grieve. It is a powerful, overwhelming sensation, and everyone must work though it differently.

The concept then is that even if you believe your grief is behind you, or if you think it will never end, you cannot be too sure. Those who have “moved on” may be surprised to feel a resurgence in their grief years later (often after a subsequent loss). Others, who are certain they will never escape the “cloud”, can wake to find the veil has finally lifted. In either case, respecting the process is key- and to truly do that one must be aware of its cyclical nature.

Grief is not an elevator ride. You cannot get on and off at the appropriate floor. Likewise, it is not a racetrack where you circle continually but never really get ahead. Grief is a spiral. It denotes movement and progress through a slow dance with repeated partners. Two steps forward, one step back. Until one day, you find the music has ended and you are free to carry on at a usual pace. But don’t be surprised if at some unexpected moment you hear an old tune and find yourself locking arms with sorrow for one last round; because a spiral also denotes cycles and repetition. And the process of grief, though it moves, moves in cycles.

The Cycle of Grief image The Cycle of Grief image