The Grieving Process
What is Grief?
Grief is the normal process of reacting to a loss. Grief reactions may be felt in response to physical losses (for example, a death), in response to symbolic or social losses (for example, divorce, change in body appearance or loss of a job), or in anticipation of a loss. Each type of loss means the person has had something taken away. Everyone reacts differently depending on their personality and coping style, relationships, past experiences and cultural and religious background. The process takes time and should not be hurried.
The Normal Feelings of Grief
Grief may be experienced as a mental, physical, spiritual, social or emotional reaction. Many people report feeling an initial stage of numbness after first learning of a death, but there is no order to the grieving process.
Some emotions you may experience include:
Some physical feelings you may experience include:
- Crying spells
- Tightness in your chest
- Restlessness or irritability
- Fast heartbeat
- Lump in your throat
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
These feelings are normal and common reactions to loss. You may not be prepared for the intensity and duration of your emotions or how swiftly your moods may change. Sometimes the feelings can be strange and scary. During the first few weeks after the loss of a loved one, almost any type of reaction is possible and normal.
Coping With Death
As time passes, you may notice changes. You begin to develop new habits and lifestyle changes and make plans for the future. Remember, grieving is a difficult but natural process, and grief takes its own time. With support, patience and effort, you will survive and grow into new wholeness. Be kind to yourself.
All cultures have developed ways to cope with death and loss. Some common ways that you cope during this time include:
- Ask for help and support from family, friends or a support group, and try to express whatever you are feeling, be it anger, guilt, sadness or relief. You don't have to grieve alone.
- Find out about helping children cope with grief and loss.
- Accept that some things, like death, are beyond your control.
- Avoid making major decisions until your judgment and perspective feel balanced.
- Take care of your health with regular physical activity, eating balanced and nutritious meals and getting regular rest and relaxation.
- Keep up with daily details so you don't get overwhelmed.
- Read books or poetry on the subject.
- Keep a diary or journal.
- Talk about and encourage others to talk about your loved one.
Do I Need Professional Help?
If your grief seems like it's too much to bear or you notice any of the following, you need to seek help from your doctor, clergy, counselor or other professionals:
- You're unable to function appropriately at work or home.
- You have extreme feeling of guilt, worthlessness or depression that get worse.
- You have trouble sleeping (particularly when you awaken early in the morning and can not get back to sleep).
- You lost or gained more than 10-15 pounds.
- You're overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts.
- You have physical symptoms that don't make sense.
Find national and local resources, including organizations and books, for grief.
- Read this list of resources and information about grief
- Find more information in our Bereavement Booklet (PDF).
Find Local Support
You don't have to go through grief alone. These organizations offer services and support: