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Coping with Grief and Loss

Grief is an intense emotion that is felt in response to the loss of someone close to us. During the grieving process, people may have a variety of emotional and physical responses. Each person copes with grief in his or her own way. This is bereavement and, though sometimes deeply painful, it is natural and normal, and a necessary response to help us heal from a loss.

Responses to Grief and Loss

There is no timetable for grieving. People grieve in their own time and in their own way. While your grief may be tempered by the passage of time, you may expect it to intensify on significant and meaningful occasions, such as anniversaries, holidays or birthdays. Most people experience grief physically and emotionally, and show grief through different behaviors.

Shock and Denial

Shock is often the initial reaction to loss; an emotional protection from being too suddenly overwhelmed. A grieving person may feel stunned, numb or in disbelief concerning the loss. While in shock, you may not be able to make even simple decisions. Friends and family may need to simply sit, listen and assist with your daily needs. Shock may last a matter of minutes, hours or days (in severely traumatic losses).


This emotion can be confusing. It's a common response to feeling powerless and may be directed at your loved one for leaving you, or at yourself for things that did not happen in your relationship. It may be directed outward at a higher power or at the medical profession for not diagnosing the illness sooner or not being able to prevent the death.


This feeling is like anger directed at yourself. You may experience guilt over feeling that you didn’t do enough or didn’t do the right things while your loved one was alive.


Crying is a normal reaction to death. It is a natural release of emotions, like sadness, and should not be discouraged or suppressed.

Restlessness and Disorganization

You may feel restless and look for activities, yet find it difficult to concentrate. Wandering aimlessly, being forgetful and not finishing things you’ve started to do around the house are common experiences for many.


This feeling of emptiness and loss can come a hundred times a day or every time you start to speak to your loved one who is no longer there.


You may find a need to tell, retell and remember things about your loved one and the experience of his or her death.

Sense of Presence

You may find yourself expecting your loved one to walk in the door at the usual time, or you may think you hear their voice, see their face or feel their presence. If it is your baby who has died, you may think you feel the baby move or hear the baby cry.

Other Physical Responses

Grief is also felt physically; the following sensations are quite common:

  • An empty feeling in your stomach and losing your appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue

It is important that you do not put aside your own health and well-being during the grieving process. Seek immediate medical attention for symptoms of serious health conditions.

What Else Can I Do?

The goal of grieving is not to eliminate all the pain or the memories of the loss. Instead, the goal is to reorganize your life so that the loss is one important part of life rather than the center of your life.

As you experience and grieve your loss, here are some suggestions others have found helpful:

  • Talk about what you’re thinking and feeling rather than trying to protect others with silence. Most people want to hear you and want to help. 
  • Postpone major decisions such as selling a house or changing jobs. 
  • Exercise regularly and eat well. 
  • Meet with others who have experienced a similar loss. You are not alone. 
  • Record your thoughts in a journal. 
  • Make time to cry rather than trying to be “brave.” 
  • Do purposeful work that occupies your mind. Try to avoid frantic activity.
  • Give yourself time. Grieving after a death may take years.
  • Be intentional about how you’re going to spend holidays and anniversaries. Do you want to do something different or keep an old tradition?