By Kenneth J. Doka, PhD. —

A while ago, someone asked me what was the most common way that bereaved individuals described their experience of grief.  I thought for a few moments. It was not, as I reflected, the words one would generally expect – “sad”, “lonely”, or “unhappy.”  The word that I think so many people use to describe their experience of grief was the word “weird.”

It makes sense.  So much of the experience of grief is so strange.

We may experience all sorts of reactions – strong, intense emotions that seem to wash over us in waves.  There may be times that at the least provocation, we cry.  Other times, we may wonder why we are not weeping or why we have not burst into tears.

We may feel that everything is surreal – that we are going through the motions but strangely unconnected to anything or anyone around us.  We may struggle to find some meaning and purpose in our life.  We may feel like we are in some sort of a fog.  It may be difficult to concentrate or focus.  Even physically we may feel different – somehow aware of every ache and pain.

We may even have “weird” experiences.  There may be moments we feel the presence of the person who died.  We may dream of the person or hear a voice or sound that reminds us of that individual.

We may find that others treat us as “weird.”  They may seem uncomfortable as they approach us, not knowing what to say.  They may feel awkward around us wondering if we will burst into tears at something said.  Worse, we may feel that awkwardness as well.

Our world now seems so strange and different.  The things we once took for granted such as eating, watching television, going out, or even sleeping now seem so far removed from how they once were.  It is like we have to learn everything, every experience anew.

The very experience of grief seems “weird.”  We seem to be on some sort of a roller coaster constantly going up and down.

Margaret Stroebe and Hans Schut, two researchers from the Netherlands, describe grief as a “dual process” – mourning a loss even as we adjust to a new life. I see that duality so frequently in my grief groups as people experience these twin mandates of grief. For example, there was the widow who at one moment described her loneliness at the loss of her spouse even as she celebrates the triumph of a first driver’s license.  When we grieve, we bounce back and forth between these dual demands.  That, too, seems “weird.”

Grief is a strange experience.  That is why validation is so important.  As we share our grief with others – confidants, family members, counselors or in self-help groups – or as we read about grief, we realize that we are not alone in our experiences.  That knowledge way not make the experience less weird but we do know now that it is normal to be weird.  We are not strange.  To live life without someone we love, someone who was an important part of our life is strange.

Published by Hospice Foundation of America’s Journey’s newsletter, copyright 2008. Reprinted with permission. To susbcribe to Journeys, visit or call 1-800-854-3402.

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Ken Doka

Dr. Kenneth J. Doka is a Professor of Gerontology at the Graduate School of The College of New Rochelle and Senior Consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America. A prolific author, Dr. Doka’s books include Counseling Individuals with Life-Threatening Illness; Living with Grief: Children and Adolescents, Living with Grief: Before and After Death, Death, Dying and Bereavement: Major Themes in Health and Social Welfare (a 4 Volume edited work), Pain Management at the End-of-Life: Bridging the Gap between Knowledge and Practice, Living with Grief: Ethical Dilemmas at the End of Life, Living with Grief: Alzheimer’s Disease, Living with Grief: Coping with Public Tragedy; Men Don’t Cry, Women Do: Transcending Gender Stereotypes of Grief; Living with Grief: Loss in Later Life, Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow: Living with Life Threatening Illness; Children Mourning, Mourning Children; Death and Spirituality; Living with Grief: After Sudden Loss; Living with Grief: When Illness is Prolonged; Living with Grief: Who We Are, How We Grieve; Living with Grief: At Work, School and Worship; Living with Grief: Children, Adolescents and Loss; Caregiving and Loss: Family Needs, Professional Responses; AIDS, Fear and Society; Aging and Developmental Disabilities; and Disenfranchised Grief: New Directions, Challenges, and Strategies for Practice. In addition to these books, he has published over 100 articles and book chapters. Dr. Doka is editor of both Omega: The Journal of Death and Dying and Journeys: A Newsletter for the Bereaved. Dr. Doka was elected President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling in 1993. In 1995, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the International Work Group on Dying, Death and Bereavement and served as chair from 1997-1999. The Association for Death Education and Counseling presented him with an Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Death Education in 1998. In 2000 Scott and White presented him an award for Outstanding Contributions to Thanatology and Hospice. His Alma Mater Concordia College presented him with their first Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 2006, Dr. Doka was grandfathered in as a Mental Health Counselor under NY State’s first licensure of counselors. Dr. Doka has keynoted conferences throughout North America as well as Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. He participates in the annual Hospice Foundation of America Teleconference and has appeared on CNN and Nightline. In addition he has served as a consultant to medical, nursing, funeral service and hospice organizations as well as businesses and educational and social service agencies. Dr. Doka is an ordained Lutheran minister. Dr. Doka appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart“ to discuss “Dealing with Grief and Loss.” To hear Dr. Doka being interviewed on this show by Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley, click on the following link:

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