The Limited Image of What We Assume Grief Looks Like

July 19, 2022

By Ken Barringer 

Time magazine recently published an article titled; How Grief Upsets Your Gut Health. I was pleased to see (as I always am) when the impact of grief is discussed on levels other than emotional. Clearly grief affects us physically, cognitively, behaviorally, and spiritually as well as emotionally. Kudos to Time for producing a piece on a physical component. I also was struck by the accompanying photo of a woman twisted up and writhing in seemingly agony (perhaps it is a metaphor for her gut health). The photo suggested to me how one sided our image of what grief can look like is. Whenever there are stories, articles, news teasers or general notifications about anything related to grief the graphic might be some variation of


or perhaps

It is certainly true and accurate that people in the throes of grief and mourning can take these postures. However, it is important to note grief has a look of more than just this. Many times, grievers can look “fine”, can look like that person across from you on the train looking at their phone or the friend next to you at a concert clapping after an inspirational performance or the family member taking pride in cooking a delicious meal. My concern is that the aforementioned can get lost and fly under the radar of concern, acknowledgement, and attention. Just because someone looks ok doesn’t mean they are ok. We know we carry grief with us forever and that it moves in and out. However, do we ever think of someone grieving could looks like this

or this

or this

or do we assume they’re “over it, they look fine”?

We can be so uncomfortable with others pain that at the first sign of things “looking normal” we might pull up the stakes on our compassion tent and move on. Some think, “they looked ok, so I didn’t want to ask how they were and upset them”. The logic of this sentence makes some sense but feels more protective of the asker than the receiver. I haven’t worked with (or met) many people who were distressed because someone asked with sincerity how they were doing. The receiver is in control of their response and how much they want to express. The asker is in control of not letting looks deceive and checking in.