A Guide to
Grief is a normal
response to loss. It can be the loss of a home, job, marriage or a
love one. Often the most painful loss is the death of a person
you love, whether from a long illness or from an accident or an act
This guide will help
you understand the grief you and others may feel after a death,
whether sudden or anticipated. We hope this guide will help
you realize that these feelings are not unusual and things can get
better. You are not alone.
Grief is painful and
at times the pain seems unbearable. It is a combination of many
emotions that come and go, sometimes without warning. Grieving
is the period during which we actively experience these
emotions. How long and how difficult the grieving period is
depends on the relationship with the person who dies, the
circumstances of the death, and the situation of the survivors. The
length of time people grieve can be weeks, months, an even years.
One thing is certain; grief does not follow a timetable, but it does
ease over time.
Because grief is so
painful, some people try to “get over” a loss by denying the pain.
Studies show that when people don’t deal with the emotions of grief,
the pain does not go away. It remains with them, and can turn
up in unrecognizable and sometimes destructive ways. Understanding
the emotions of grief and its feeling and symptoms are important
steps in healing and in helping others who may be grieving.
The Feeling and
Symptoms of Grief
Experts describe the
process of grieving and the emotions of grief in various ways.
The most commonly described reactions are: Shock, Denial, Anger,
Guilt, Depression, Acceptance, and Growth. Some people
experience the grieving process in this order. Most often, a
person feels several of these emotions at the same time, perhaps in
If the death comes
suddenly, as in an accident or murder, shock is often the first
response people feel. Even if the death is anticipated, there
may be disbelief at its finality. A person may be numb, or,
like a robot, be able to go through the motions of life while
actually feeling little. At the same time, physical symptoms
such as confusion and loss of appetite are common.
Shock and denial are
nature’s way of softening the immediate blow of death. Denial
can follow soon after the initial shock. People may know their
loved one has died, but some part of them can’t yet accept the
reality of the death. It is not uncommon to fantasize that the
deceased will walk through the door, as if nothing has happened.
Some people leave bedrooms unchanged or make future plans as if the
loved one will participate, just as in the past.
normal. It may be directed at the deceased for leaving and
causing a sense of abandonment, or at the doctors and nurses who did
not do enough, or at a murder that killed without remorse.
People of faith may feel anger at God, for allowing so much pain and
anguish. Anger may also be directed at oneself for not saving
the life of the loved one. It can be a mild feeling or a
raging irrational emotion. It can test one’s faith in religion
or even in the goodness of life.
Few survivors escape
some feelings of guilt and regret. “I should have done more”
are words that haunt many people. Were angry words exchanged?
Most people are very creative in finding reasons for guilt. So
many things could have been done differently “if only I had
Sadness is the most
inevitable emotion of grief. It is normal to feel abandoned,
alone and afraid. After the shock and denial have passed and the
anger has been exhausted, sadness and even hopelessness may set
in. A person may have little energy to do even the simplest
daily chores. Crying episodes may seem endless.
Time alone will not
heal grief. Acknowledging the loss and experiencing the pain may
free the survivor from a yearning to return to the past.
Accepting life without the lost loved one may give way to a new
perspective about the future. Acceptance does not mean
forgetting, but rather using the memories to create a new life
without the loved one. Hoping for things to be as they were
may be replaced by a search for new relationship and new
Grief is a chance for
personal growth. For many people, it may eventually lead to
renewed energy or invest in new activities and new
relationships. Some people seek meaning in their loss and get
involved in causes or projects that help others.
Some people find a
new compassion in themselves as a result of the pain they have
suffered. They may become more sensitive to others, thus enabling
richer relationships. Others find new strength and
independence they never knew they had. After the loss, they find new
emotional resources that had not been apparent before.
Grieving people have
two choices; they can avoid the pain and all the other emotions
associated with their loss and continue on, hoping to forget.
This is a risky choice, since experience shows that grief, when
ignored, continues to cause pain.
The other choice is
to recognize grieving and seek healing and growth. Getting
over a loss is slow, hard work. In order for growth to be
possible, it is essential to allow oneself to feel all the emotions
that arise, as painful as they may be, and to treat oneself with
patience and kindness.
Give into it-even
give it precedence over other emotions and activities, because grief
is a pain that will get in the way later if it is ignored.
Realize that grief has no timetable; it is cyclical, so expect the
emotions to come and go for weeks, months or even years. While a
show of strength is admirable, it does not serve the need to express
sadness, even when it comes out at unexpected times and places.
Talk About Your
Take the time to seek
comfort from friends who will listen. Let them know you need to talk
about your loss. People will understand, although they may not
know how to respond. If they change the subject, explain that
you need to share your memories and express your sorrow.
Forgive yourself for
all the things you believe you should have said or done. Also
forgive yourself for the anger and guilt and embarrassment you may
have felt while grieving.
Eat Well and
Grief is exhausting.
To sustain our energy, be sure to maintain a balanced diet.
Exercise is also important in sustaining energy. Find a
routing that suits you – perhaps walks or bike rides with friends,
or in solitude. Clear your mind and refresh your body.
Take naps, read a
good book, listen to your favorite music, get a manicure, go to a
ball game, rent a movie. Do something that is frivolous,
distracting and that you personally find comforting.
Holidays and Anniversaries
Many people feel
especially “blue” during these periods, and the anniversary date of
the death can be especially painful. Even if you think you’ve
progressed, these dates may bring back some of your painful
emotions. Make arrangements to be with friends and family
members with whom you are comfortable. Plan activities that
give you an opportunity to mark the anniversary.
can help you recognize your feelings and put them in
perspective. They can also help alleviate the feeling that you
are alone. The experiences of sharing with others who are in a
similar situation can be comforting and reassuring. Sometimes,
new friendships grow through these groups – even a whole new social
network that you did not have before.
There are specialized
groups for widowed persons, for parents who have lost a child, for
victims on drunken drivers, etc. There are also groups that do
not specialize. Check with your local hospice or other
bereavement support groups for more information.
If you find that you
are in great distress or in long-term depression, individual or
group therapy from a counselor who specializes in grief may be
advisable. You can ask your doctor for a referral.
Take Active Steps
to Create a New Life for Yourself
Give yourself as much
time to grieve as you need. Once you find new energy, begin to
look for interesting things to do. Take courses, donate time
to a cause you support, meet new people or even find a new job.
It is often tempting
to try to replace the person who has been lost. Whether
through adoption, remarriage, or other means; this form of
reconciliation often does not work.
Many people discover
that there is hope after death. Death takes away, but grief can give
back. It is possible to recover from grief with new strengths and a
new direction. By acting on our grief, we may eventually find
peace and purpose.
Helping Those in
You may know someone
who has experienced a loss. Many of us feel awkward when someone
dies, and don’t know what to do or say. The suggestions below
are designed to help you help friends, family and coworkers who are
Reach Out to the
Show your interest
and share your caring feelings. Saying the wrong thing is better
than saying nothing at all. At the same time, avoid clichés
like “It was God’s will, “ or “God never gives us more that we can
bear”, or “At least she isn’t suffering.” Do not say you know
how it feels. Do say you are sorry and that you are available to
listen. Be prepared for emotional feelings yourself. A
death generates questions and fears about our own mortality.
Your greatest gift to
a grieving person can be your willingness to listen. Ask about
the deceased. Allowing the person to talk freely without fear of
disapproval helps to create healthy memories. It is an
important part of healing. While you can’t resolve the grief,
listening can help.
Ask How You Can
Taking over a simple
task at home or at work is not only helpful, it also offers
reassurance that you care. Be specific in your offer to do
something and then follow up with action.
These can be a very
difficult time for those who are in grief. Do not allow the
person to be isolated. Remember to share your home, yourself,
or anything that may be of comfort.
That You Can Do Together
Walking, biking or
other exercises can be an opportunity to talk, and a good source of
energy for a tired body and mind.
Help the Grieving
Person Find New Activities and Friends
persons in your life. Grieving people may require some
encouragement to get back into social situations. Be
persistent, but try not to press them to participate before they are
Pay Attention to
Signs that the
grieving person is in distress might include weight loss, substance
abuse, depression, prolonged sleep disorders, physical problems,
talk about suicide, and lack of personal hygiene.
Observing these signs
may mean the grieving person needs professional help. If you
feel this is the case, a suggestion from you (if you feel close
enough to the person), or from a trusted friend or family member may
be appropriate. You might also want to point out community
resources that may be helpful.
Death can be a
painful and permanent loss experience, and one of the hardest from
which to recover. Death takes away, but facing it and grieving can
result in peace, new strengths and purpose.
“Tears are a sign of Weakness” and other
myths about Grief
The death of a loved
one can be the most intense lost you may ever encounter. While
loss and grief are emotionally painful, you can cope with them more
realistically when you separate the facts from fiction about
Grief is the feeling
and emotions of loss. It’s the pain inflicted on your mind and
spirit when someone you love dies. One of the most common myths
about grief is that being “brave” and “strong” prevents deep
Myth: It is
better to be “brave” and “strong” to avoid having so much emotional
pain. Fact: Avoidance simply postpones emotional pain.
Myths about grief
abound, stifling your ability to grieve in healthy ways.
Simply knowing the facts can make a great difference in the way you
mourn and the way you support others in their bereavement.
Common Myths about
paralyzes you indefinitely. Fact: When you take time to feel grief,
it eventually goes away. The only way out of it is through
Myth: Tears are
a sign of weakness. Fact: Tears help wash away intense
feelings. They are healthy way to move through grief. Of
course, some people can’t cry because tears are unnatural for
them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deeply feel the
Myth: You never
really finish grieving if you truly loved someone. Fact: True
love is supported by the love itself, not the grief. You will
always have the memories of your relationship, and you can keep the
loved one’s memory alive in healthy ways.
Myth: Grief is never
finished: Fact: It’s finished when you grieve in a
healthy way. Unfinished grief that surfaces years later is
crying out for completion.
Myth: Self neglect is
a part of grief. Fact: Self-neglect could be a sign of
clinical depression. Your loved one would want you to take
good care of yourself.
ends in three months (or some other time frame). Fact:
Grief is a process, not an event. It cannot be avoided or
rushed. The grief process takes as long as you need it to take. So,
be patient and tolerant with yourself, and avoid those who are
impatient or intolerant with you.
Myth: Only the
sick have physical problems in grief. Fact: rushing through or
trying to avoid grief can lead to chronic headaches,
gastrointestinal ailments, sleep disorders, and other physical
Myth: All bereaved
people grieve the same way. Fact: No one else will
grieve exactly the same way you do. Cultures, values, beliefs,
personalities, and relationships all determine how you grieve.
Myth: You will
be the same after the death as you were before your loved one
died. Fact: the death of someone you love changes your
life forever. The transformation often results in tremendous
emotional and spiritual growth.
relationship with loved ones ends after their death.
Fact: Death ends a life, not a relationship. Memories
are one of the vest legacies that exist after the death of someone
you loved. Find creative ways to embrace them.
always steadily declines over time. Fact: Initially,
grief may seesaw between an emotionally sharp intensity and a dull
aching. Over time and with the completion of grief
work, the emotional distress subsides.
alone will heal your emotional pain. Fact: Time helps,
but healing also involves “grief work.” This work requires
expressing your feelings and emotions, talking about your loss
accepting the death, and learning to live again.
grief is resolved, it never comes up again. Fact: You
may be sadly reminded again of the loss on birthdays, anniversaries,
holidays or other significant dates. Take extra special care
of yourself during these times.
Myth: You shouldn’t
think of your loved one on holidays or anniversaries because it will
make you feel sad. Fact: It’s okay to feel sad and it’s
okay to feel good. Allow the memories of your loved one to be with
you in a gentle, tender way. Buy a living plant or a special candle
to burn as a memorial to the love you once shared. Or, in their
memory, donate to a charity the amount of money you would have spent
Expressing intense feelings is a sign of losing control.
Fact: Tears, confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt, and
relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your
grief journey. There is no such thing as a” wrong” feeling or
emotion. Accept them all, and find others who will do the