Grief and Grieving: Coping with a Significant Loss

Grieving is a personal experience. Depending on who you are and the nature of your loss, your process of grieving will be different from another person’s experience. There is no “normal and expected” period of time for grieving. Some people adjust to a new life within several weeks or months. Others take a year or more, particularly when their daily life has been radically changed or their loss was traumatic and unexpected.

Grief is your emotional reaction to a significant loss. The words sorrow and heartache are often used to describe feelings of grief. Whether you lose a beloved person, animal, place, or object, or a valued way of life (such as your job, marriage, or good health), some level of grief will naturally follow.

Some grief experts consider grieving to be the slow recovery from a crisis of attachment: After losing something or someone to whom you are deeply attached, your sense of self and security is disrupted. So as you adjust to a major loss, your goal is to develop or strengthen connections with other people, places, or activities. These new parts of your life are not meant to replace what you have lost. Instead, they serve to support you as you begin to start a new phase of your life. Even after many years, you may reexperience feelings of grief, especially over the loss of your loved one. Be prepared for this to happen during holidays, birthdays, and other special events, which typically revive feelings of grief.

The Medical Effects of Grief

A wide range of feelings and symptoms are common during grieving. While you are feeling shock, numbness, sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, or fear, you may also find moments of relief, peace, or happiness. And although grieving is not simply sadness, “the blues,” or depression , you may become depressed or overly anxious during the grieving process.

Often, the stress of grief and grieving can take a physical toll on your body. Sleeplessness is common, as is a weakened immune system over time. If you have a chronic illness, grieving can make your condition worse.

Social support, good self-care, and the passage of time are usually the best medicine for grieving. But if you find that your grief is making it difficult to function for more than a week or two, contact a grief counselor or bereavement support group for help.

Coping with Grief

Home treatment plays an important role in working through the grieving process. Talking about the loss, sharing cares and concerns, and getting support from others are very important components of healthy grieving.

If you have just had a major loss in your life, it is important to:

  • Get enough rest and sleep.
    During sleep, your mind makes sense of what is happening in your life. Not getting enough rest and sleep can lead to physical illness and exhaustion. Try activities to help you relax, such as meditation or guided imagery.
  • Eat nourishing foods.
    Resist the urge not to eat or to eat only those foods that comfort you. If you have trouble eating alone, ask another person to join you for a snack or meal. If you do not have an appetite, eat frequent small meals and snacks. Consider taking a multivitamin daily.
  • Exercise.
    If nothing else, take a walk. Brisk walking and other forms of exercise, such as yoga or tai chi and qi gong, can help release some of your pent-up emotions.
  • Comfort yourself.
    Allow yourself the opportunity to be comforted by familiar surroundings and personal items that you value. Special items, such as photos or a loved one’s favorite shirt, may also give you comfort. Treat yourself to something you enjoy, such as a massage.
  • Maintain your normal activities.
    Staying involved in activities that include your support network, such as work, church, or community activities, may help you as you grieve.

To help you work through the grieving process, make sure to:

  • Surround yourself with loved ones.
    You may feel lonely and separate from other people when you are grieving. You may think that no one else can understand the depth of your feelings. Surrounding yourself with loved ones and talking about your feelings and concerns may help you feel more connected with other people and less lonely.
  • Get involved.
    Take part in the activities that occur as a result of the loss. These may include making funeral arrangements after the death of a loved one, making plans for seeking new work after losing a job, or going to a good-bye party for a beloved friend who is moving.
  • Avoid quick fixes.
    Resist the urge to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or take nonprescription medicines (such as sleeping aids). When you are under emotional stress, these may only add to your unpleasant feelings and experiences and may mask your emotions and prevent you from normal, necessary grieving.
  • Ask for help.
    During times of emotional distress it is important to allow other people to take over some of your responsibilities. Other people often feel the need to show you how much they care about you.

If you have trouble functioning for longer than a couple of weeks because of depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor. Treatment with medicines or counseling can help speed your recovery.

+ Find a bereavement support group near you.
+ Get in touch with a member of our Spiritual Care Team.

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