A Psychologist’s Perspective on Grief

A Psychologist’s Perspective on Grief: Leaning into Loss (part 1)

I’m a psychologist who specializes in grief and mourning. The concept of grief represents one of the most profound and universal emotions and experiences we encounter. From the loss of a loved one to the dissolution of a dream, grief manifests in a variety of forms, each carrying its own weight and significance. I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative power of leaning into loss, naming its impact, normalizing its reactions, processing the steps as you work through your own unique grief process, and understanding the spectrum of loss.

Leaning into loss is not about rushing through the pain or masking it. Instead, it’s an invitation to sit with our sorrow, to explore its depths, and to honor the complex and confusing emotions that accompany it. In a culture that often shies away from discussions of death and despair, leaning into loss requires courage and vulnerability. It means confronting the discomfort head-on, knowing that only by diving into the depths can we learn how to come up for air. There is such power in learning how to oscillate between these two spaces, the grief work and the restorative work. 

With leaning into loss, I love the visual of deep sea diving. That’s how it can feel in early stages of grief. It can feel dark, cold, isolating, numbing, brain fog, scared, confusion, disorientation, etc. (you get the picture). And while it’s hard being down here in the depths, (hanging out with the angler fish) it’s important to understand the landscape. To learn how to be comfortable down here, to respect and honor this sacred grief space. Now, we will run out of air at some point, right? So while part of us really wants to stay down in this grief space all the time (thinking about our loved one, surrounding ourselves with memories/special items, disengaging from the world, etc.), we must come up for air. We need to go slowly, acclimating to the impending changes we will experience when we break thru the surface. This “coming up for air” process is the restorative work, the self-care, the engaging with life. It can also feel overwhelming, overstimulating, confusing/disorienting (remember, you were just in the dark depths and it’s really bright up here), painful, and shocking. Our goal is to find that balance in oscillating between these two spaces, not staying in one area too long, and finding a flow that allows us to bother honor our grief, our loved one and also honor that we need to care for ourselves as we adjust to this new normal. (Another fun visual is of an oscillating kitchen fan between grief work and restorative work). 

One of the most important aspects of leaning into loss is the recognition that grief is not a linear journey. 

It doesn’t follow a prescribed path or adhere to a predetermined timeline. Instead, grief is messy, nonlinear, and unpredictable, kinda like a cesspool (yes, I realize that’s graphic, and you just don’t know which emotion/step/experience of grief will bubble up to the surface…) 

I know that in our society, people would feel more comfortable if we could just check the boxes of grief, like “oh I’ll just be in denial for a couple of weeks, and then I’ll move into bargaining for like, three days, and then I’ll be angry for a couple of months and you know, by the end of the quarter I’ll have made it through all the steps of grief”. This, unfortunately, is not how it works. Your grief process is unique to you and can shift based on the hour, day, and week. That’s one of the hardest pieces is you just don’t know when emotion will strike next. 

It ebbs and flows like the tide, sometimes receding into the background, only to surge forward with unexpected intensity. Understanding this nonlinear nature of grief is essential for navigating its complexities with self-compassion and patience. A visual I like to use with my clients (the more you are in community with me, the more you’ll learn how much I love a metaphor/visual), is of waves of grief crashing against you. In the beginning (which can be weeks/months/even years; remember there is no one “right way” here), the waves come hard, frequent and they knock the wind out of you. What can happen over time with therapy, self-care, and learning how to live in this new normal, the waves can soften, spread out and decrease in intensity. So here’s the trick… THE WAVES DON’T STOP. They keep coming. It’s just that their intensity and frequency can change. Learning how to lean into loss, lean into the waves of grief, can help you learn how to ride the waves vs. fight them. 

As a psychologist, I intend to name and normalize the grief experience for my clients. Too often, individuals grappling with loss feel isolated and misunderstood, as if their emotions are abnormal or unwelcome; or they are worrying if they are grieving “wrong”. Every week I hear stories from clients wondering if something they are experiencing is “normal” or “typical”. 

So I work with my clients to help them gain perspective, by taking a step back and looking at the whole picture. By naming grief for what it is—a natural response to loss—I validate my clients’ experiences and help them better understand how significantly grief impacts their physical being (more on this in part two of this blog series). Normalizing grief means acknowledging its universality, recognizing that no two grief journeys are alike, and affirming that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve.

Grief and mourning are not meant to be a solo adventure. It’s a collaborative process that requires the support, intentionality, and understanding of loved ones, friends, and mental health professionals alike. My intention in the therapy is to create a safe and nurturing space for my clients to explore their grief, free from judgment or expectation. Together, we navigate the complexities of loss, asking hard questions, being curious, learning what it means to be flexible, and having grace for ourselves as we adjust to this new world, their new normal. 

Leaning into loss is a courageous act of self-compassion and self-discovery. As a psychologist, I am honored to walk alongside my clients as they navigate the spectrum of loss, offering guidance, support, and empathy every step of the way. I hope this was helpful and I look forward to sharing more insights into grief and mourning in the next three parts of this blog series. 

***If you’re curious about what it’s like to work with me, feel free to email me at hello@griefisthenewnormal.com, listen to my podcast, “Grief is the New Normal: A podcast with Dr. Heather Taylor” available on Spotify or follow along on instagram @grief_is_the_new_normal.