Feelings of loss are extremely personal – often prompted by the death of a close friend or family member, or the breakup of a serious relationship. But grief can also have subtler causes: weakened physical or mental states, the death of a pet, a move to a new home or financial upheaval.
Grief is a natural – and universal – response to loss, but the grieving process itself is intensely personal. Everyone grieves in their own way and their own time: some freely discuss their feelings or seek support, while others mourn losses in a more solitary manner.
This page and its links are designed to help normalize what you may experience in the wake of a significant loss, or to help you understand the grieving process of a loved one.
The Grief Experience
Many of us worry about the “right” way to grieve, though it’s by now widely accepted everyone’s grief is unique. There are, however, certain commonly-shared symptoms of grief, which manifest themselves in varying degrees:
Shock and disbelief – Even when it’s anticipated, a loss can be difficult to accept, and can often lead to feelings of numbness and denial.
Sadness – Running the gamut from loneliness to despair – and characterized by crying jags and periods of emotional instability – sadness is one of grief’s most universal symptoms.
Guilt – In the wake of a death, it’s common to regret things left unsaid and deeds left undone – even to wrongly feel responsible for not preventing it from happening.
Anger – Even when no one’s at fault, the loss of a loved one can stir up feelings of anger and resentment. Blame is often shifted to doctors or God – or to the loved one, by whom you might now feel abandoned.
Fear – It’s natural to feel helpless, anxious or insecure – to worry, for example, about how you’ll fare with a loved one no longer in your life.
Physical Symptoms – Grief doesn’t just affect emotions. It can also cause fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.
Typical reactions to grief include:
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Irritability or anger
- Feelings of being misunderstood
- Feelings of emptiness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Change in appetite
- Wandering aimlessly
- Forgetting/not finishing things
- Preoccupation with loss
- Mood swings
- Unexpected crying
- Dwelling on details of the loss
- Feelings of anxiety or nervousness
- Feelings of guilt or remorse
- Feelings of ambivalence
How can you cope with grief?
- Talk to family or friends
- Follow regular eating/sleeping patterns
- Observe a daily routine, but avoid being too busy
- Take time to think, feel, relax and heal
- Avoid making any life-altering decisions
- Be patient with yourself
- Spend time alone — listen to music, write in a journal, take walks, or learn a new hobby
- Set goals for yourself; be encouraged by your progress
- Choose relaxation, leisure, exercise or massage over alcohol, sedatives, and other means of self-medicating
- Seek counselling or join a support group
The above represent healthy coping mechanisms; others – like isolation or substance abuse – cause further harm. Coping skills can’t remove your feelings of loss entirely, but they can help you process your grief more effectively.
How can you support others who are grieving?
- Provide a listening ear
- Allow them to feel sad
- Refrain from minimizing their grief
- Ask questions about their loss; share stories of your own losses
- Ask about their feelings; share your own
- Acknowledge their pain
People who are grieving often feel isolated or alone, especially once the initial shock wears off. Well-meaning friends sometimes avoid those who are grieving for fear of making them feel worse – always remember it’s better to feel awkward while comforting a friend who’s grieving than not to comfort them at all.