Why Does Grief Come In Waves?

It’s often said that grief comes in waves. This speaks to the fluctuating feelings and thoughts that accompany a significant loss. You may not feel a persistent sense of sadness or anger, but certain experiences may trigger those emotions. It’s also common for people to have both good days and bad days. In some moments, the grief may not seem to impact you much at all. But in other moments, it can feel completely overwhelming.

Understanding Your Grief Process

Although the five stages of grief (denial, anger, sadness, bargaining, and acceptance) are widely known and often cited, they don’t capture the full nuance of grief. It’s true that these emotions often do arise in response to loss. But they don’t always happen, and they don’t always follow a specific timeline, and other feelings, including relief, guilt, and anxiety, often tend to occur as well.

It’s most important to remember that each grief process is both individual and collectivistic. From this framework, you can understand your grief as an individual process that is unique to you and your circumstances. With that, your grief is also part of a larger shared experience where everyone undergoes heartache and loss in this lifetime. No matter how lonely your feelings feel, you are not alone in them.

Some people feel concerned that something about their grief process isn’t normal. It may be helpful to remind yourself that all of the following reactions are common during grief:

  • You may have a sense of numbness.
  • You may find it easier to return to work or daily tasks than you envisioned.
  • You might want to distract yourself from the grief to manage your emotions.
  • You may feel like things will never get better.
  • You may long for closeness with others.
  • You may crave solitude and alone time amid your grief.
  • You may not necessarily have words to describe how you feel at all times.
  • You may find yourself feeling deeply comforted by nostalgia.

Does Grief Come In Waves?

Grief can certainly come in waves. Grief is rarely a constant state- instead, it may be best understood like the weather. At the start of the storm, everything can feel dire and terrifying. Indeed, it may literally all seem unsafe, and it’s most important that you survive.

The first wave may feel like a tidal wave. You don’t think you’re going to make it. But somehow, you swim. Even if it terrifies and exhausts you. Even if you’re convinced you will never be able to survive another similar wave again. 

But as life unfolds, the weather inherently changes. The waves may not feel as frightening. A few sunny days start coming in. The wind chill lifts. The storm passes, even though rain still comes again. Some seasons will always be rainer than other ones- this represents the tides of life we all ride.

People experiencing complicated grief, bereavement overload, or disenfranchised grief may note that their grief feels more prolonged. If this is the case for you, you might also not feel the gravity of your grief until several months or years after the loss. 

How Can You Cope With Grief Waves?

There’s no perfect way to manage grief. It’s a human experience that nobody can immaculately master. It is a textured and painful process, but it can also pave the path for strengthening meaning and purpose in life.

Stop trying to control how you feel: Although it may feel tempting, you really can’t predict or change how you feel. You may be aware of certain triggers (i.e. a certain holiday reminds you of your loved one), but instead of trying to escape your feelings, consider simply welcoming them. Let them crash over you the way they want to. Remind yourself that feelings always pass.

Allow yourself to cry, scream, write, or do nothing at all: Grief can make people feel quite primal. You may notice instincts that surprise you. If they are safe and don’t cause you physical harm, it may be beneficial to explore these types of releases. You may find that allowing yourself to lean into that energy also helps you heal.

Talk to others riding the grief waves: Sharing grief is, by far, one of the most important parts of healing. There’s something powerful to be said about sharing a collective feeling and receiving care and validation from others. Consider reaching out to your loved ones or joining a grief support group.

Practice more self-care: Nurture yourself as much as you can during this vulnerable time. Although life unquestionably goes on, you don’t have to adhere to an intense pace right now. It’s okay to slow down and allow yourself to absorb gentle love and self-compassion.

Grief Therapy in Austin, TX

As a grief therapist, I am here to support my clients in navigating all stages and types of grief. I also work with caregivers reconciling their changing identities or the ambiguous losses associated with medical illnesses or aging. 

I deeply understand the complex emotions associated with trauma, grief, and loss. I would be honored to provide you with guidance and safety as you move through this tender time.

Please contact me today to schedule your initial consultation. 

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759

(512) 988-3363

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