Coping with Grief and Loss

December 2009

Material adapted from

Any loss can cause grief, including a relationship breakup, loss of health, losing a job, loss of financial stability, a miscarriage, the death of a pet, loss of a cherished dream, a loved one’s serious illness, loss of a friendship, and loss of safety after a trauma such as a serious crime incident.

After a significant loss, you may experience all kinds of difficult and surprising emotions, such as shock, anger, and guilt.  These are normal reactions to loss. Accepting them as part of the grieving process and allowing yourself to feel what you feel, is necessary for healing.

There are healthy ways to cope with pain. Grief that is expressed and experienced has a potential for healing that eventually can strengthen and enrich life.

People grieve differently

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss.

The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried – and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. It may take weeks or the process is measured in years. It is important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

Common symptoms of grief

Shock and disbelief – Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss really happened, or even deny the truth.

Sadness – Profound sadness, emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness. You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.

Guilt – You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn’t say or do.

Anger – Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you may feel angry and resentful. If you lost a loved one, you may be angry at yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you.

Fear – A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.

Physical symptoms – Grief often involves physical problems, including fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.

Coping with grief and loss

  • Get support.  This is the single most important factor in healing from loss. It’s important to express your feelings when you’re grieving. Sharing your loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry.
  • Do not grieve alone:  Connecting with others will help you heal.  Turn to friends and family members, draw comfort from your faith and talk to a therapist or grief counseller.
  • Take care of yourself.  When you’re grieving, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself. The stress of a major loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time.
  • In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain. Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. Unresolved grief can also lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.
  • Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way. Keep a journal. Write a letter, saying the things you never got to say; make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating the person’s life; or get involved in a cause or organization that was important to him or her.
  • Look after your physical health. The mind and body are connected. When you feel good physically, you’ll also feel better emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. Don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.
  • Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel or that it’s time to “get over it.” Allow your grieving without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, and to let go when you’re ready.
  • Plan ahead for grief “triggers”. Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones can reawaken memories and feelings. If you’re sharing a holiday or lifecycle event with other relatives, talk to them ahead of time about their expectations and agree on strategies to honour the person you loved.

Complicated grief

The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn’t remain center stage and the pain should not be constant and severe. Complicated grief is like being stuck in an intense state of mourning. You may be so preoccupied with the person who died that it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your other relationships. You may have intense longing and yearning for the deceased or intrusive thoughts of your loved one.  You may deny the death or imagine that your loved one is alive. You may experience extreme anger or bitterness or feel that life is empty and meaningless. You may blame yourself for the loss, feel numb and disconnected from others for months, or are unable to trust others since your loss. You may be unable to perform your normal daily activities. Consult a doctor, a therapist or grief counseller to prevent significant emotional damage.

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