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How I Discovered Little Griefs

This beautiful photo sums up “little griefs” so perfectly to me. There is the big rainstorm that dropped an ocean of water down onto the world. Then there are the raindrops, each trying to find their footing after being so suddenly displaced. (photo by Marcy Schrum)

Grief arrives with us into this world, or at least that is my working theory.

After all, anyone older than nine months has already experienced grief at least once, with that first big wrenching transition from inside-Mom to outside-Mom.

Maybe we liked it better inside and maybe we like it better outside, but either way, we didn’t expect it. We weren’t ready. We didn’t have any say in the matter.  Ouch.

Fast forward 48 more years, and grief is a rather regular visitor in my life, but not always in ways I instantly recognize or respect.

Sure, there is what I’ve come to call “big grief.”

I had that kind last November when my longtime love and I separated. I still have it, just to clarify. That kind of grief is big and bold. It likes to make an entrance.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief model sums up the high points: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance.

Personally, when in the throws of big grief, I tend to flop around a bit between the stages, waking up in denial one day, feeling angry the next, crying my eyes out a few days later after another round of bargaining with my ex, then finally finding the softness of acceptance for a moment or two….before it starts all over again.

But recently I discovered that big grief isn’t the only kind of grief. There is also a type I’ve come to call “little griefs.” 

Little griefs are the small bits that get flung off from big grief – whatever the central thing is that I am grieving. Maybe I’m grieving a permanent parting of ways with someone very important in my life. I’m grieving that hugely, visibly, loudly at times.

But then there are the little griefs. The best way I can describe these is like aftershocks. If big grief is the earthquake, little griefs are the aftershocks.

Aftershocks are the Earth’s personal attempts to comprehend the full implications of what just occurred, identify a microcosm of stability in an inherently unstable landscape, take that first shaky step forward out into the unknown, settle back into a world and a life where nothing looks or feels anything like it did just a short while before.

So little griefs are what happens when a particularly brilliant moon pops into view and I ache with remembrance that we used to text one another to go outside and look at the moon.

Little griefs are when I see the small box of energy bars I bought for him that he will now never eat.

Little griefs are walking outside in the morning to realize it is literally a perfect beach day and then feeling that feeling of tamping down on the urge to see if he wants to just drop everything and go with me.

Little griefs are my attempts to – as kindly and gently as possible – notice the small empty spaces that used to be filled, settle back into my space beside it, take a big deep breath, then take that first shaky step forward and trust there will still be solid ground there when my foot finally lands.

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever experienced an earthquake – either physically or emotionally or both? Did you notice any tremors, shakes, rumbles, either before or after the “main event?” What was that like for you? Do you think grief aftershocks (or foreshadowings, for that matter) can have their own benefit in the healing process?



How I Discovered Little Griefs

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2020). How I Discovered Little Griefs. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Apr 2020
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