People experiencing grief often associate it with a single isolated event, but grief is actually cumulative—increasing in quantity and degree by all the grief that came before it. Here’s how to navigate this complex, multi-faceted emotion to experience true healing.
Throughout our lives, we experience events that change us forever. From birth, death, divorce, childhood trauma, and so much more, we are all navigating the human experience and with that comes the multifaceted emotion of grief. No one, no matter how good they are at saving face, is immune to grief; and nobody comes out of loss unscathed.
But what many people don’t realize is, grief is cumulative. Cumulative is defined as “increasing or increased in quantity, degree, or force by successive additions.” What does this mean? The grief you feel over a recent loss—such as a pet, family member, or even being displaced from your home after an unexpected natural disaster—may not only stem from this one isolated event.
You actually may be grieving the pain of an entire lifetime. Using this powerful analogy, you can peel back the layers of grief in a powerful way that can help you in your healing journey.
The Grief Backpack
Imagine for a moment you are a child getting ready for your first day of kindergarten. Your mother got you the coolest, snazziest backpack and you can’t wait to rock it and be the subject of envy in your kindergarten class.
But this backpack isn’t for exploring the great unknown like Dora and Friends or for academic materials. No—it’s to hold pebbles that symbolize every single moment you experience grief and pain, from your earliest childhood memories until now.
You’ve filled your grief backpack with rocks throughout your life. To date, that backpack has grown increasingly heavier to carry, physically and emotionally. After all, you’ve experienced so much loss and pain in your life and may have packed it down deep to make room for more.
So when you experience a cataclysmic event like the loss of a loved one or a traumatic family court case, it’s not just the loss of that event that feels unbearable: it’s the weight of every painful moment you’ve ever experienced and not truly processed.
Peeling Back the Layers of Cumulative Grief
The Grief Backpack is just one of many ways a grief specialist can help someone in grief recovery “unpack” (literally and figuratively) the pain they are experiencing.
When you lose a loved one, you aren’t just mourning their loss—but the pain of every tragedy that came before it.
When you go through a nasty divorce, you aren’t just grieving the severed marriage—but every time you have felt abandoned by people you trusted to love, nurture, and protect you.
When you try to live a normal life after a family member goes to prison, you aren’t just mourning the loss of their presence—but the grief of repeatedly losing people close to you.
When another school shooting ravages a nation, we aren’t just grieving that one event—but every mass shooting that came before it and rocked us to our core.
If you think you suffer from the effects of cumulative grief, you are not alone. Grief is an extremely complex emotion to navigate and left unresolved, can do major damage emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically (sometimes all four).
We see you, we know you’re hurting, and want to offer you a safe place to share your story and feel supported in your healing journey. Contact us today to set up a free discovery call and spend some time with us – we’re here for you.
Sharon Brubaker is a certified Life Coach and credentialed Grief Specialist who, along with her team, teaches women who are grieving how to process their thoughts and emotions. To learn more about navigating grief within the family, listen to the full podcast episode here or download my free e-Book, The Griever’s Guide, which equips you with the tools to live life after grief; because no griever should have to navigate a broken heart on their own.