What Does It Mean to Be 'Grief-Stricken'? Definition + Examples

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Eventually, most of us will suffer through a significant crisis of loss in life. No one is immune to suffering the pain and grief associated with the death of a loved one or a beloved pet. The deep despair and intense hopelessness suffered after a loved one's death are known to cause an overwhelming amount of mental and emotional distress.

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There are different types of grief that we may all suffer through at some point in our lives. Some are more complicated and last longer than others. When the symptoms of grief—sadness, sorrow, the inability to move on, loss of hope, and bitterness or anger—last more than six months, normal grief turns into prolonged, complicated grief.

Recognizing the suffering you're experiencing and knowing the difference between mourning versus grief is essential for working through your pain. 

What Does Being "Grief-Stricken" Mean?

When a person suffers from extreme sadness following the loss of a loved one or other significant loss, they're said to be grief-stricken. While grieving a significant loss is an expected grief reaction, sorrow lasting longer than usual turns into prolonged grief.

Sometimes it may feel as if there's no end to the pain associated with the sadness following a death or other traumatic event. Feeling overwhelmed by grief, not accepting the causes of that distress, and being bereft of hope are all ways to describe someone who is grief-stricken. 

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What Happens to Someone Who’s Grief-Stricken?

There are many physical and psychological grief reactions associated with extreme sadness that all fall under being grief-stricken. Grief shows up in the body in different ways and affects everyone individually.

Grief tends to manifest commonly in physical symptoms, which are then displayed by a person suffering from the loss of a loved one or other significant loss. Some of these symptoms are the following:

  • An aching or racing heart
  • Clenched stomach
  • Chills running down the spine
  • Racing thoughts
  • Insomnia
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of energy

When a person suffers from normal grief, sadness and sorrow often come and go in waves, followed by calm periods. A grief-stricken person typically won't go through these ebbs and flows of emotions.

Their sadness is more of a persistent type and is accompanied by low mood and agony that just won't go away. These symptoms are more closely associated with depression and prolonged grief. 

What Are Some Examples of Someone Who’s Grief-Stricken?

Telling the difference between someone who is sad, grieving, or is grief-stricken can be difficult to do from an outsider’s point of view. Most of the time, grief shows up in telltale ways that can be easy to see. Other times, grief disguises itself and makes it difficult to tell when a person is suffering deeply.

A person who’s experiencing extreme and prolonged grief will exhibit clear signs, but only to those who are around consistently. A grief-stricken person is most apparent to other family members who either live with them or spend a lot of time with them. Other times, it’s more challenging to discern the signs of extreme grief from that of normal grief.

A widow(er) who’s lost their spouse and won’t eat or sleep

A person who’s lost their spouse is especially vulnerable to being grief-stricken. Widow(er)s suffering from intense grief run the risk of deadly inflammation associated with intense grief. The loss of a life partner can produce the type of suffering that can kill a person--aptly titled broken-heart syndrome.

Elevated grief symptoms following a spouse’s death contribute to the risk of inflammation linked to heart attack, stroke, and premature death. A grief-stricken spouse who exhibits signs of complicated grief may have trouble eating and sleeping sometimes due to the inability to accept the reality of their loss. 

A parent who has lost a child and has withdrawn from family

There's no more significant loss to a parent than losing a child. For a parent whose child has died, there's no difference whether their child died a few minutes after birth or well into their adult years. The pain is no more and no less. A grief-stricken parent may exhibit clear signs of profound pain and yearning for years after their child's death.

As a result, it's not unusual for a bereaved parent to withdraw from other members of their family as they struggle to accept and understand their loss. A bereaved mother may have difficulty connecting with her spouse and other surviving children. Simultaneously, a father who's in mourning may have difficulty openly expressing his emotions and retreats into himself. 

A child withdraws after the death of a parent

Children grieve very differently from how an adult grieves. Depending on their age, they may not yet be mature enough to handle the emotions associated with grief and loss. For most children, the first time they experience a significant loss will be the death of a grandparent or a beloved pet. Their experience with death-related pain and suffering is minimal to nonexistent the younger they are.

For some children, you may never even know that they're grieving. The way they process and display complex emotions differ drastically from how adults process these same emotions.

A clear indicator that a child is having difficulty processing a parent's death is when they withdraw from others both at home and in elementary school. Other ways that a child typically displays grief are that they:

  • Have difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep too much or too little
  • Suddenly become clingy
  • Change their play habits
  • Exhibit signs of guilt

Teenagers turning to substance abuse

Teenagers suffering from prolonged and complicated grief will display their grief in ways unique to their age group. Teens are already going through a significant life transition during this time in their lives.

When you couple changing hormones with grief-related stress, teens may act out in precarious or other harmful ways to themselves and others. They may shift their mindset to invincibility or not caring about what happens due to their actions. These are typical responses to loss and grief. 

It’s not unusual for a teenager to start experimenting with alcohol or other substances to help numb their pain. A grief-stricken teenager may not understand the complexities of their emotions and may need grief intervention sooner rather than later.

You can begin teaching them about grief at home by talking about how they’re feeling, encouraging them to open about what they’re going through, or sitting together to watch movies about grief

Adult siblings estranging themselves from family

The death of a parent affects each adult child differently in a family with more than one child. The level of grief an adult child may experience after their parent dies will largely depend on their relationship with them growing up and the one they maintained as adults. 

Each child's experience with their parent affects their grief. Where one child might find that their parent had a favored child, another might not have picked up on that particular nuance. A common way an adult child processes a parent's loss is by estranging themselves from other family members.

They may continue this estrangement for a few months, a few years, or for the rest of their lives. Recognizing that this is a typical grief response may help families stay together or rebuild relationships after some time of mourning has passed.

A professional starts taking risks during a divorce

Divorce is one of those life-altering events that significantly affect those who undergo the dissolution of their marriage. In most cases, families have torn apart, financial stability plunges due to divorce-related expenses, and spousal identities change.

The breakup of a marriage can have profound consequences for the spouses and their families. An example of grief resulting from divorce is a professional who starts taking significant risks with their business or professional licensing during or following a divorce. 

They may begin ignoring their professional responsibilities, squandering assets, having affairs, and abusing substances. You can recognize when someone you love is acting out their grief by paying attention to the conversations they’re having with you and in their actions.

You may notice an uptick in purchasing expensive items such as luxury cars, handbags, or watches. They may also start giving their money and assets away to friends, family, or even strangers. These are all signs of complicated grief associated with someone who’s having difficulty coping with grief and grief-related stress.

Healthcare worker contemplating suicide

Healthcare workers and other frontline personnel under constant pressure to save lives or otherwise stabilize traumas in an overburdened system may be affected by prolonged and complicated grief.

The daily exposure to trauma and other emergent situations tends to compound. When left unrecognized and untreated, it may cause problematic grief-related symptoms.

Some of the ways grief shows up in healthcare workers are feelings of exhaustion, helplessness, loss of hope, and thoughts of suicide. Healthcare workers at all levels can be affected. No one person is more or less prone than another to feel the effects of grief-related stress. 

Recognizing When Someone is Grief-Stricken

When a person is grief-stricken, the journey they'll walk on is their own. No one can tell them how or how long they should grieve. They have to do whatever feels right for them at the moment.

The best that you can do for them is to offer your love and support when you recognize that they are having difficulty coping with their grief. Eventually, they'll learn to live with their loss and to survive without their loved ones. 

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