“Do most people experience “symptoms” of grief?

Someone told Rachel that after her husband died, she would experience symptoms of grief. Rachel didn’t like to think about her grief as display-ing “symptoms” because she had previously experienced symptoms of several medical conditions and she did not think her loss was a medical condition.

As she worried about this matter, she decided to talk to Rabbi Yonit to seek her guidance. Yonit told Rachel that she, too, had been concerned about the use of symptom language to describe signs or manifestations of grief. According to the rabbi, grief was a normal and natural reaction to loss. It could take many forms and have many dimensions, but for most be­reaved people none of those expressions of grief pointed to a medical or psychi­atric condition.

Rabbi Yonit acknowledged that in a very few bereaved people, their grief cou1d become so”exire’me that it” .. prevented them from functioning in everyday life. She said that was called “complicated grief “ or “prolonged grief disorder:’ In her entire career, Rabbi Yonit said that she had only encountered one person who exhibited this type of symptomatology.

She had referred that person to a professional therapist who had experience in helping with such problems.By contrast, Rabbi Yonit said, most people did not grieve this way. Their reactions to loss were expressions of their anguish. Typically, they were sad, sometimes angry, often cried, and usually showed other signs of the impact their losses had upon them. Their grief was most evident immediately after their loss, but sometimes also on later occasions when they would experience what Rabbi Yonit called “grief attacks:’

According to the Rabbi, each of these people had benefitted from the support of their family, friends, and other members of their community networks. She also had found that a caring and experienced clergyperson or counselor could be helpful. Everything depended on what the individual in question decided he or she needed as that individual navigated his or her own grief journey. By contrast, what was not helpful was overmedicalizing interventions and talking about symptomatology or uni­versal stages that every griever must go through.


  • An excerpt from Journeys – A Newsletter to help in bereavement that we send monthly to our bereaved families.
    Author: Charles A. Corr, PhD, formerly chaired the International Work Group on Death, Dying, and Bereavement and is recipient of the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Death Education and Counseling.

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