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Understanding Grief and Loss

Grief Support, female sitting in chair

By Erica Schwartz, MSSW, LCSW
Special for Teen Strong

There has been a lot of talk about grief recently in relation to COVID-19. Grief about the deaths of those who have died from the disease but also grief about change and missed opportunities. You may be wondering, what is grief? And how does it affect us?

For us at New Song Center, we focus on the grief associated with a death. The death can be of anyone, including a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, or a friend. What grief is:

  • The pain we feel when someone we love dies.
  • A normal response to any loss and a natural part of the life cycle.
  • A very individual experience; everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
  • An emotional roller coaster of highs and lows.
  • Often stressful
  • A process that takes time.

Grief is not a disorder or disease; it’s not contagious, nor is it a sign of weakness. We all grieve in different ways and at different rates; there is no set timetable.

So, how long does grief last? Many factors influence grief. How hard and how long you grieve depends on many factors. Grief will be affected by your personality and the nature of your relationship with the person who died. Grief depends on how the person died—was the death sudden or was it a long illness leading to an expected death. The age of the person who died also affects our grief experience. If the death was witnessed or how you were told about the death may also influence your grief. Your experience with loss and death, your culture, your belief systems, and the type and amount of support available to you can all impact your grief. Rumors about you or the cause of the death as well as any feelings of guilt and regret you may have can prompt feelings of grief. Remember that holidays and special events may continue to trigger your grief at different times throughout your life.

Grief is everywhere. It is all around us because it is a normal and natural part of life. Grief is how we respond to losses and move forward. The two most universal experiences we share as human beings are birth and death.

Teens can respond to grief in many different ways. There is no set order for grief responses and your response may be very different from those around you. You may feel overwhelming sadness that keeps you from doing things you want to do. You may feel guilt over something you said or didn’t say, or for wanting to feel normal again. You may not have any response at first and feel kind of numb. You might see a drop in your grades at school or you may work extra hard so you don’t have to think about the pain of the loss. You may feel lonely or angry or unmotivated; all of these are normal responses to grief.


Erica Schwartz is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked in a variety of settings throughout her career. Most recently she worked as a hospice social worker and now works supporting families with Hospice of the Valley’s pediatric hospice team and supporting families as a Bereavement Counselor for New Song Center for Grieving Children.