Grieving and Loss

This purpose of this article is to provide general information on issues related to the grieving process, but is not meant to replace consultation with a mental health professional. If you are concerned about a significant loss in your own life, or that of another, please feel free to contact our office to set up an appointment (263-2987).

We all face losses: the death of a friend, relative or pet; a relationship ending; loss of a job, a dream or a limb. These losses provoke grief, an emotion that is part of a normal, healthy, healing process. Restraining grief is harmful. Releasing it heals.

Many misunderstand grief. They think crying or showing emotional pain is a sign of weakness. They try to deny grief. But feeling the pain helps deal with loss and return to normal ways of living.

The Grieving Process

Grieving is a process that can take weeks, months and even years. People don’t heal on a timetable. The brief time given to attend a funeral only touches the beginning stage of the process. Experts describe the stages of grief in various ways, but broadly speaking, they include:

  • Shock and denial: a numbness and disbelief that the even has occurred
  • Anger: at the deceased, at doctors, family members, etc.
  • Guilt: about things not done or said
  • Depression: about a loss that feels overwhelming and sadness that seems never-ending.
  • Acceptance: of the situation and life’s new reality
  • Growth: readiness to move ahead with one’s life

Some people experience the grieving process in this order. Most often, a person feels several of these emotions at the same time, perhaps in different degrees. Eventually, each phase is completed and the person moves ahead. The extent, depth and duration of the process will also depend on how close people were to the deceased, the circumstances of the death, and their own situation.

Grief Reactions

Grief reactions are as different as the people who experience them; there is no right way to grieve. Grief may be responsible for physical symptoms such as insomnia, appetite changes, malaise, or actual illness. Grief affects perception - the way we see ourselves and others, the way we make decisions. We may find it difficult to think clearly and may feel a sense of confusion. If possible, major decisions should be postponed. Small victories, such as deciding on the day’s meals, will help to instill a sense of control.

Grief may prompt some to withdraw from life and push others to stay too busy to feel. It is important that contact with friends and family is maintained. Contact with others who are experiencing the loss can help one to move through the grief process. Almost every emotion can be part of the grief reaction: fear, anger, peace, despair, guilt, agitation and a seemingly bottomless sorrow may all be a part of grieving.

What To Do if You Suffer a Significant Loss

  • Accept that grief is normal and healing takes time.
  • Anticipate that feelings of overwhelming sadness will recur after the period of intense grief is over. Special times might include holidays, anniversaries and birthdays.
  • Realize that others are uncomfortable and inexperienced at dealing with grief, and be prepared to ask for what you need.
  • Talk out your feelings with friends and family.
  • Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Eat nutritious meals and get some exercise every day.

Getting Help

Almost everyone needs help dealing with grief. Support groups and friends who are good listeners can help in all stages of grief. Counselors can provide a different outlook and help in expressing feelings. Inexpensive or free help is available at many mental health centers, churches, synagogues, hospitals, clinics and employee assistance programs. Knowing you need help and asking for it is a sign of strength.

Helping Someone Else Grieve

If someone close is grieving, you can help.

  • Show empathy. Try to understand what they are feeling. It’s all right to say you care, but are uncertain about how to help and what to say.
  • Accept. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. Listen without judging or trying to change them. Let them know they’re not alone.
  • Share information about grief and the tasks of mourning.
  • Maintain the connection. Grieving takes a long time, and support is needed throughout the process.

The above information was adapted from the University of Massachusetts Faculty and Staff Assistance Program. We wish to thank them for permission to use this material.