Grief and Loss

Emotions and Feelings

  • Sadness, yearning, depressed mood, mood changes
  • Feelings of helplessness and loss of control
  • Panic and anxiety
  • Fear of death
  • Shock, denial, numbness
  • Guilt and shame
  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Tearfulness, crying
  • Relief
  • Remorse and Regret

Physical Symptoms

  • Changes in sleep and/or eating patterns
  • Anxiety/autonomic nervous system arousal
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Increased somatic complaints or physical illnesses, such as headaches, colds, stomach aches, back pain, and hypertension
  • Fatigue

Changes in Behavior

  • Social withdrawal and/or isolation
  • Preoccupation with the deceased
  • Avoiding stimuli that are reminders of the deceased
  • Increased use of alcohol or substances
  • Changes in activity level

Changes in Thinking

  • Poor concentration
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion, forgetfulness
  • Feelings of unreality

Factors That May Complicate Grieving

Sometimes other circumstances affect the grieving process and the responses of the bereaved. These include the age of the deceased and the circumstances of death, whether the loss was sudden or expected, and the cause of death, particularly if violence was involved (e.g. suicide, disaster, crime, etc.). The nature and quality of the relationship between the deceased and the bereaved person is important, too. Earlier unresolved losses, whether occurring through death, parental divorce, or broken relationships for example, may also complicate an individual's recovery.

How to Help a Friend

  • Talk openly to the bereaved person about his/her loss and feelings. Don't try to offer false cheer or minimize the loss.  Allow the grieved time to talk without being judgmental.
  • Be available. Call, stop by to talk, share a meal or activity. Your presence and companionship are important.
  • Listen/be patient. Listening is an often overlooked gift of yourself. Allow the bereaved person to vent feelings. Don't judge the person's thoughts or feelings. Don't feel you need to offer advice. Listening itself is very powerful.  You don’t need to have the answers.
  • Take some action. Send a card, write a note, call. This is important not just immediately after the loss, but especially later, when grief is still intense but when others have resumed their daily lives and support for the bereaved may dwindle.
  • Encourage self care. Encourage your friend to care for himself or herself physically, emotionally, and socially. Encourage your friend to seek out support and/or professional help, if appropriate.
  • Accept your own limitations. Accept that you cannot eliminate the pain your friend is experiencing. Grief is a natural, expected response to loss and each person must work through it in his/her own way and at his/her own pace. Be supportive, but care for yourself too.