Throw the stages of grief out the window. They simply can’t be trusted. If you are like me, or most people who are grieving in any way shape or form, the stages of grief aren’t’ stages at all. They can happen all at once, and whenever they want –– from the moment the loss happens to 10 or 50 years later. 

The reality is that loss is cyclical. The grief of it never goes away –– it’s just that in the “new normal” you find in which grief will always live, so too lives joy and love and passion. 

Of course, if you are like me, having numbers and data is extremely helpful, too. In the days and weeks after my stepfather’s sudden passing, I found my way to books like “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” because I wanted to understand from a scientific standpoint exactly what was happening in cremation –– and every other step of the process. It was my first cremation experience after all! 

So, I’ve looked up the numbers, to my surprise, there was a recent study on grief in the United States by Amerispeak and WebMD. That study found that more than 57% of Americans reported experiencing a major loss over the last three years. 

45% of the deaths were anticipated, 45% were not anticipated, and another 8% were anticipated as the result of a violent circumstance. 

What this tells me is this: none of us are alone. More likely than not, every other person we run into in our lives is also suffering loss and grief –– and the kind of loss and grief associated with death. 

The numbers and data continue. For instance, there are real, physical symptoms and side effects that come with intense grief. 65% of Americans going through intense grieving experience some sort of physical ailment, or a combination of multiple ones. 

Here is some data I found on Eterneva’s blog post about coping with loss, about the physical symptoms grievers feel:

  • 39% experience fatigue

  • 32% change of appetite

  • 25% headaches

  • 20% aches and pain

  • 15% stomachaches

  • 12% heart palpitations

  • 5% new diagnosis or worsening disease, cancer, blood pressure

  • Other 10%

Also, surprise! You aren’t crazy! Your mental health suffers after a loss –– a lot. Of grievers in the study:

  • 83% experienced sadness 
  • 42% experienced depression
  • 31% inability to sleep / sleep disturbances
  • 29% anger
  • 19% anxiety, including PTSD
  • 5% suicidal thoughts
  • Other 2%

And yet, despite the physical and mental pain beyond that of the loss itself, there is one thing that stood out in the data head and shoulders above everything else: friends and family. 

Almost a full 50% of those grieving intensely said spending more time with friends and family was extremely helpful. Yes, there may be periods of isolation, or outbursts of anger, but by-and-large, those grieving want to spend time around those who knew and loved their loved one, too. 

So not only are we not alone with the strangers we encounter, we also aren’t alone in our preferred coping mechanisms. For the friends and family we call on, please just sit here in the suck with us. It feels lonely here. All you have to do is be present. 

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Tracey Wallace

Tracey is the Head of Brand Marketing at Eterneva, where she works to re-shape the conversation around death, dying, and grief, and remove the stigma around having the hard, vulnerable conversations necessary to die and grieve well. She is also the Founder of Doris Sleep, a brand that sell eco-friendly and machine-washable bed pillows. Her background is in content marketing, SEO, partner marketing, and business development. She is most passionate about connecting the dots across various disciplines to reveal overarching trends mirroring our humanity back to us. Tracey has written for: The Battalion, Texas A&M’s student newspaper, where she was dubbed the Aggie Maureen Dowd. She’s worked for NaturallyCurly (since acquired by Essence Magazine), Shoptiques, the first ever fashion brand to graduate from Y-Combinator, BigCommerce, where she grew content organic traffic to more than half a million sessions a month, among others. You can find her work in 2PM, ELLE Magazine, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Mashable, and Eterneva. Tracey lives in Austin, Texas, with her wife Rachel and fur baby Idgy. You can follow her at @TraceWall on Twitter.

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