STARTING IN INFANCY, all wholistically-healthy people form emotional and perhaps spiritual attachments (bonds) to tangible and invisible things. Life on Earth decrees that these bonds will be broken by chance or choice, causing losses.

We may start grieving before an foreseen occurs, or be plunged unexpectedly into major mourning without warning. Losses may occur gradually - like the loss of youth - or suddenly, like a stroke or car crash.

We lose all kinds of prized things, not just people or pets (relationships). We lose childhood innocence, dreams, abilities, roles, freedoms, hopes, favorite places, rituals (e.g. Sunday dinners with Grandma), and many more. Each major loss requires patient mourning and effective support.


The effects of significant losses occur on mental, emotional, and perhaps spiritual levels. Each level has identifiable phases:

The mental level of grief starts with many questions, following some mental confusion and disorientation. What have I lost? Why? Can I get it back? How? Could I have prevented this loss? What does this loss mean to me and others I care about?

This level progresses from (a) clarifying the questions, to (b) trial answers, to (c) solid credible answers, to (d) stable acceptance. In this last phase, the questions fade away and don't recur.

The emotional/psychological level of mourning is the most widely known. Common phases we move through are shock > anger > deep sadness > emotional stability (acceptance). As mourning progresses we can cycle back and forth through these phases.

When we reach the acceptance phase of this level, we can fully admit and discuss our loss, and experience reminders of the lost relationship or thing, without excessive emotional reactions that distract or disable us.

Spiritual level People with firm belief in a Higher Power may question their faith with certain major losses ("How could a caring God cause me to lose my leg?") Phases in this last level include loss of faith, and perhaps related shame and guilt > ambivalence > regaining stable faith.

Depending on many personal and environmental factors, moving through the phases of all three levels may take months or years. A major factor that many people aren't aware of is whether a "loser" (one suffering a loss) has personal and social permission to feel and express each of these three sets of phases in their own unique way, at their own time. These permissions depend in part on the "grieving policy" (beliefs and values) of their childhood and present families.

Bottom line - bonding and losses are natural occurances for kids, adults, and some animals. Nature's way of adapting to inevitanble broken bonds is the process of two or three-level grief. Grieving is "done" when we reach stable mental and emotional acceptance of our loss/es, and regain any lost spiritual faith.

Depending on the nature of the bonds and losses, this process cannot be rushed. It CAN be hindered or blocked. It may take days, months, or many years. When we're truly "done," we're free to grow and enjoy selective new bonds.

Notice your reaction to this three-level, multi-phase grief concept. Does it make sense to you? Try it out: think of one or more major losses in your life, and consider each level. Are you "done"?

For more perspective on "good grief," see the free self-study course at...

Author's Bio: 

I have studied and taught grieving and other aspects of "the human condition" for 50 adult years. My instructors have included over 1,000 average women and men in my private practice as a family-systems and stepfamily therapist and clinical social worker. I'm still learning! See my nonprofit Web site at