The other day, I was shopping and saw my Mother-in-Law. I started walking over to say hi when I suddenly remembered that she had passed away many years ago. It surprised me that I reacted so quickly to seeing a woman similar in size and fashion. That afternoon, I felt a little sad as I remembered this lovely lady who held such a significant place in my life.

Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s our bodies’ way of dealing with the emotional suffering when we lose something important to us. This loss could be a loved one, our health, a job, financial stability, a pet, a friendship or other important relationship, or a myriad of other events that change our lives. In the past few years, many of us have found ourselves grieving the loss of our pre-pandemic world.

Grief can take many forms. A grieving person might experience shock, anger, disbelief, guilt, anxiety, sadness, or many other emotions. They might also have physical reactions such as difficulties sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

Anticipatory grief, also called anticipatory loss or preparatory grief, is the distress that a person may feel prior to the actual loss. This could be caused by the diagnosis or progression of a degenerative disease such as dementia or could occur during end-of-life care. People with genetic predisposition to a disease can experience anticipatory grief as they imagine what might happen if they do receive the feared diagnosis and how it might change their life. Patients on an organ transplant waiting list often fear that they will not survive before a donor is found, but also can grieve for the loss of life and sorrow to the family of the potential donor.

Grief with a sense of relief can be a difficult combination of emotions for a caregiver who has lost their loved one. Relief that the suffering has ended for our loved one is perfectly normal for someone who has cared for and witnessed the difficulty of a long-term illness. Although the feeling of relief is not unreasonable, often it’s accompanied by feelings of shame. These feelings of relief and shame can complicate the overall grieving process. It can be difficult to reconcile that you are suffering a loss while you are relieved it’s finally over.

The grieving process can take time—sometimes a lot of time—and everyone grieves in their own way and on their own timeline. As we learn to live with the loss we are grieving, often the signs of heartache will lesson. But not always. Grief is not a “one size fits all” sort of thing. Even when our grief is subsiding, certain events (holidays, birthdays, etc.) or a memory can cause the feelings of grief to return in full force.

It’s important that we allow ourselves to grieve. While some people will withdraw from friends and family, we are social beings and having face-to-face support can help with the process. Often, people will want to help, but feel awkward or simply do not know how to support someone who is grieving. In this case, let your friends and family know what you need—whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear, or just someone to be around.

Support Groups can be an excellent source of solace to a grieving person. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced the same sort of loss can be very helpful. To find a support group, contact your local hospital, hospice, funeral homes, or council on aging.

If your grief is just too much to handle on your own, a grief counselor can help you work through your emotions. Unresolved grief can lead to depression, other mental health issues, or medical problems.