Coping with Grief and Loss
Support for Grieving and Bereavement
Losing someone or something you love is very painful. After a significant loss, you may experience all kinds of difficult and surprising emotions, such as shock, anger, and guilt. Sometimes it may feel like the sadness will never let up. While these feelings can be frightening and overwhelming, they are normal reactions to loss. Accepting them as part of the grieving process and allowing yourself to feel what you feel is necessary for healing.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve - but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain.
You can get through it! Grief that is expressed and experienced has a potential for healing that
eventually can strengthen and enrich life.
In This Article:
• What is grief?
• Are there stages of grief?
• Common symptoms of grief
• Get support
• Take care of yourself
• When grief doesn't go away
• Professional help
• Send a note
Grief is a natural response to loss. It's the emotional suffering you feel when something or
someone you love is taken away. You may associate grief with the death of a loved one - and
this type of loss does often cause the most intense grief. But any loss can cause grief, including:
• A relationship breakup • Death of a pet
• Loss of health • Loss of a cherished dream
• Losing a job • A loved one's serious illness
• Loss of financial stability • Loss of a friendship
• A miscarriage • Loss of safety after a trauma
The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief. However, even subtle losses can lead to grief. For example, you might experience grief after moving away from home, graduating from
college, changing jobs, selling your family home, or retiring from a career you loved.
Everyone grieves differently
Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many
factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the
nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can't be forced or hurried - and there is no "normal" timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it's important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.
Myths and Facts About Grief
MYTH: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.
Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long
run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.
MYTH: It's important to be "be strong" in the face of loss.
Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn't mean you are weak. You don't need to "protect" your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.
MYTH: If you don't cry, it means you aren't sorry about the loss.
Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it's not the only one. Those who don't cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.
MYTH: Grief should last about a year.
Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from
person to person.
Source: Center for Griefand Healing
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced what became known as the "five stages
of grief." These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing
terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes
and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.
The five stages of grief:
• Denial: "This can't be happening to me."
• Anger:" Why is this happening? Who is to blame?"
• Bargaining: "Make this not happen, and in return I will
• Depression: "I'm too sad to do anything."
• Acceptance: "I'm at peace with what happened."
If you are experiencing any of these emotions following a loss, it may help to know that your
reaction is natural and that you'll heal in time. However, not everyone who is grieving goes
through all of these stages - and that's okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go
through each stage in order to heal. In fact, some people resolve their grief without going
through any of these stages. And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably won't
experience them in a neat, sequential order, so don't worry about what you "should" be feeling
or which stage you're supposed to be in.
Kubler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to
everyone who mourns. In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages of
grief, "They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are
responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives."
Grief is a roller coaster, not a series of stages
It is best not to think of grief as a series of stages. Rather, we might think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning, the lows may be deeper and longer. The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss. Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding or the birth of a child, we may still experience a strong sense of grief.
Source: Hospice Foundation of America
While loss affects people in different ways, many people experience the following symptoms
when they're grieving. Just remember that almost anything that you experience in the early
stages of grief is normal- including feeling like you're going crazy, feeling like you're in a bad dream, or questioning your religious beliefs.
• Shock and disbelief - Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. You
may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss really happened, or even deny the
truth. If someone you love has died, you may keep expecting them to show up, even
though you know they're gone.
• Sadness - Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of
grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness. You
may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.
• Guilt - You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn't say or do. You may
also feel guilty about certain feelings (e.g. feeling relieved when the person died after a
long, difficult illness). After a death, you may even feel guilty for not doing something to
prevent the death, even if there was nothing more you could have done.
• Anger - Even if the loss was nobody's fault, you may feel angry and resentful. If you
lost a loved one, you may be angry at yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who
died for abandoning you. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that
was done to you.
• Fear - A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. You may feel anxious,
helpless, or insecure. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can
trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the
responsibilities you now face alone.
• Physical symptoms - We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief
often involves physical problems, including fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight
loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.
The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Even if you aren't comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it's important to express them when you're grieving. Sharing your loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry. Wherever the support comes from, accept it and do not grieve alone. Connecting to others will help you heal.
Finding support after a loss
• Turn to friends and family members - Now is the time to lean on the people who care
about you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Draw loved ones
close, rather than avoiding them, and accept the assistance that's offered. Oftentimes,
people want to help but don't know how, so tell them what you need - whether it's a
shoulder to cry on or help with funeral arrangements.
• Draw comfort from your faith - If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the
comfort its mourning rituals can provide. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you -
such as praying, meditating, or going to church - can offer solace. If you're questioning
your faith in the wake of the loss, talk to a clergy member or others in your religious
• Join a support group - Grief can feel very lonely, even when you have loved ones
around. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help.
To find a bereavement support group in your area, contact local hospitals, hospices,
funeral homes, and counseling centers.
• Talk to a therapist or grief counselor - If your grief feels like too much to bear, call a
mental health professional with experience in grief counseling. An experienced therapist
can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.
How to support a grieving person
If someone you care about has suffered a loss, you can help them heal by asking about their
feelings, spending time just being with them, and listening when they want to talk.
Read: Helping and Supporting Someone Who Is Grieving
When you're grieving, it's more important than ever to take care of yourself. The stress of a
major loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical
and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time.
• Face your feelings. You can try to suppress your grief, but you can't avoid it forever. In
order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain. Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and
loss only prolongs the grieving process. Unresolved grief can also lead to complications
such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.
• Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way. Write about your loss in a journal.
If you've lost a loved one, write a letter saying the things you never got to say; make a
scrapbook or photo album celebrating the person's life; or get involved in a cause or
organization that was important to him or her.
• Look after your physical health. The mind and body are connected. When you feel
good physically, you'll also feel better emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting
enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. Don't use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of
grief or lift your mood artificially.
• Don't let anyone tell you how to feel, and don't tell yourself how to feel either. Your
grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it's time to "move on" or "get over
it." Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It's okay to
be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry or not to cry. It's also okay to laugh, to find
moments of joy, and to let go when you're ready.
• Plan ahead for grief "triggers". Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones can reawaken
memories and feelings. Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know that it's
completely normal. If you're sharing a holiday or lifecycle event with other relatives, talk
to them ahead of time about their expectations and agree on strategies to honor the person
It's normal to feel sad, numb, or angry following a loss. But as time passes, these emotions
should become less intense as you accept the loss and start to move forward. If you aren't feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem, such as complicated grief or major depression.
The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn't remain
center stage. If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as complicated grief. Complicated grief is like being stuck in an intense state of mourning. You may have trouble accepting the death long after it has occurred or be so preoccupied with the person who died that it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your other relationships.
Symptoms of complicated grief include:
• Intense longing and yearning for the deceased
• Intrusive thoughts or images of your loved one
• Denial of the death or sense of disbelief
• Imagining that your loved one is alive the difference between grief and depression
• Searching for the person in familiar places
• Avoiding things that remind you of your loved one
• Extreme anger or bitterness over the loss
• Feeling that life is empty or meaningless
Distinguishing between grief and clinical depression isn't always easy, since they share many
symptoms. However, there are ways to tell the difference. Remember, grief is a roller coaster. It involves a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even when you're in the
middle of the grieving process, you will have moments of pleasure or happiness. With
depression, on the other hand, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant.
Other symptoms that suggest depression, not just grief:
• Intense, pervasive sense of guilt.
• Thoughts of suicide or a preoccupation with dying.
• Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
• Slow speech and body movements
• Inability to function at work, home, and/or school.
• Seeing or hearing things that aren't there.
To learn more about the signs and symptoms of clinical depression, see Understanding
Can antidepressants help grief?
As a general rule, normal grief does not warrant the use of antidepressants. While medication
may relieve some of the symptoms of grief, it cannot treat the cause, which is the loss itself.
Furthermore, by numbing the pain that must be worked through eventually, antidepressants delay the mourning process.
If you recognize any of the above symptoms of complicated grief or clinical depression, talk to a
mental health professional right away. Left untreated, complicated grief and depression can lead
to significant emotional damage, life-threatening health problems, and even suicide. But
treatment can help you get better.
Contact a grief counselor or professional therapist if you:
• Feel like life isn't worth living
• Wish you had died with your loved one
• Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
• Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
• Are having aifficulty trusting others since your loss
• Are unable to perform your normal daily activities
Losing a family member is a difficult time, but in those times, friends and family come together, offering sympathy and assistance when needed. Acknowledging these gestures of love with a simple card follows proper etiquette, and also allows you and your family to show appreciation for those who offer comfort.
When considering stationery for acknowledgment cards, choose a card that seems tasteful and best represents you and your family. Many families choose acknowledgments from our collection and available from the funeral home.
If you are unsure who should receive a card, make a list of anyone who sent flowers to your home or funeral chapel. If friends brought dinner or made other thoughtful gestures, send a card to express your thanks. You do not have to send acknowledgment cards to those who sent cards to your family or attended the service. For traditional or religious funeral services, you should also thank the pastor or priest presiding over the service.
Acknowledgment cards and thank-you notes should be sent within two months of the funeral. You may find that sending out cards within a few weeks works best since you will recall the gestures easier than you might a month or two later.
Acknowledgment cards do not have to be lengthy. A few sentences will suffice. If someone made a specific gesture, such as sending flowers or attending the funeral service, simply thank her for the flowers. You may wish to add something special, such as a memory or how the deceased regarded the person. End the letter by expressing your appreciation for the gesture, and close with 'Warm regards" or 'With love," depending on your level of acquaintance.
You may choose have your family sign the cards while everyone is in town for the service. Set aside a time and have the family gather together. This also gives your family an opportunity to share memories and feelings about the deceased. Another option is to give family members a list of names and addresses and a number of acknowledgment cards. Let the family member write the cards when she feels up to the task. Also consider asking a close friend to help write the notes if you need help.