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Grief Overview

Various life events can cause grief to varying degrees. A few of these are:


  • Ending a relationship

  • Losing a job

  • Illness or disease (impacting you or someone you care about)

  • Assault

  • Accident

  • A painful or traumatic event


Grieving people may experience crying, sleep changes, appetite changes, disengagement from life tasks, friends, relationships, family, and work; they may exhibit anger and they may feel guilty, lonely, depressed, empty and sad. They may feel numb or helpless and believe that things will never feel any different, or any better. They may experience moments of happiness or joy in the midst of grief. These experiences are a normal response to grief in the days and weeks following a loss. 


Grief is a natural journey that takes time and work to travel. Grief is not “one size fits all” and it is normal for people to grieve in different ways. There is no "right” way to grieve. The loss of a child, spouse, younger parent, life partner, or best friend, is usually more deeply felt than the loss of more distant relations and acquaintances. These relationships are more deeply interwoven into our sense of self. It is completely normal to “unravel” if these relationships are lost.


The following experiences are all part of normal grief:


Shock or Denial. It is normal for a grieving person to forget that a loved one is gone — until a startling reminder brings back the painful reality. A grieving person can feel air-headed or numb, and may experience frequent emotional shifts, from remorse, guilt, sadness, and regret. These emotions can be accompanied by deep sadness, crying, sobbing, or complete stillness.


Deterioration, which can include a loss of appetite, changes in sleep patterns or lack of sleep, hyperventilating, difficulties in breathing or swallowing, sweating, nausea and vomiting, is also normal during grief.


Protest. Emotions can range from helplessness to anger. A person can also experience an increased affect, which is just a technical way to talk about an increase in emotions and emotional expression. A person’s normal reaction to an event can be “blown out of proportion” when the person is grieving.


Disorganization. Depression, confusion, deep fatigue, anxiousness, aimlessness, loss of purpose, and restlessness can all accompany disorganization. A person in mourning can lose interest in normal “feel good” activities and social connections. The person may experience an increase in loneliness. People who don’t have many friends or who have friends that don’t know how to support them during a period of grief, or who have family members who live far away may feel abandoned. Elderly people who outlive their spouses and friends may suffer more because they alone and they are grieving.


Reorganization. After a period of time, people in mourning may find themselves “trying on” their new identity. They may experience periods of energy; they may make new friends or reconnect with old friends, and they may develop new interests or hobbies.

Next: Types of Grief

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