September 23, 2010 Kim Goldman

Everyone who experiences losing someone they love goes through a grief cycle. This cycle can last for several months or several years.

Common responses to losing a loved one include:

  • Denial. Help the person accept reality by being truthful.
  • Bodily distress. Anxiety can cause physical or emotional symptoms such as loss of appetite, obsessive eating, sleeplessness or nightmares.
  • Anger. Outward expressions of hostility, rage, explosive behavior or inward expressions of depression, self-blame or self-destructive ideation.
  • Hostile Reactions to the deceased. It is common for family members and friends to have feelings of being deserted, abandoned or rejected.
  • Hostile Reactions to others. It is common to blame others such as parents, God or a doctor.
  • Guilt/Self Blame
  • Bargaining: Buying time to accept the reality of the situation.
  • Replacement: Quickly seeking affection from others as a substitute.
  • Assumptions of mannerisms: Taking on characteristics of the deceased loved one and sometimes trying to carry out the plans or wishes of the one that died.
  • Idealization: The person is obsessed with positive qualities of the deceased.
  • Depression: Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, withdrawal and loss of pleasure.
  • Anxiety: Preoccupation with physical symptoms.
  • Panic: State of confusion and shock. A period of fearfulness exists regarding others.
  • Acceptance: Learning to reorganize his/her life without the deceased loved one.

Grief has been described as the combination of sorrow, strong emotion, and the resulting confusion from losing someone important to you. Grieving the loss of a loved one is a process and it is important to understand because the process is key to finding closure.

What does grief look like?

Grief evolves as the grieving process takes place. Just after a death has occurred, it is common for you to feel completely numb. You may feel guilty for not feeling sad or for not feeling any emotions whatsoever. However, you should understand that you are in shock and that the process has just begun. You will feel sad, but right now you are too overwhelmed to feel.

Grief affects you physically. It is common to feel tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, lack of energy, dry mouth, trouble sleeping and eating and feeling that nothing is real.

If any of these conditions seem overwhelming, seek the advice of a physician.


It is common for you to unconsciously search for your loved one. Forms of searching include dreams that seem incredibly real and hallucinations caused by familiar sounds, smells and sights.

Searching is normal and is an important part of adjusting to your loss.


During the grieving process, your emotions may be intense. Let yourself feel these emotions and try your best to deal with them.


Anger is a common emotion following a death. Sometimes the object of your anger doesn’t seem to make sense, but whatever the case, your anger is very real and the stress that you feel seems unbearable. The best thing to do is to release your anger in a way that will not damage you or the ones you love.

Try exercising, journaling, hitting a pillow, or screaming.


Almost everyone experiences guilt. It is common to say, “I would have,” “I should have,” or “I could have.” We can never take back the mistakes that we make in our lives. Try to focus on the things that you did. Write them down.

If you feel guilty about something you never apologized for, write an apology to your loved one.


Depression is another common response to losing a loved one. While it is normal to feel deeply depressed for the first few weeks, if the depression persists, it is a good idea to seek a counselor for treatment. Many people have found it very helpful to attend a bereavement support group. Most hospitals and churches will have information on these groups.

If you feel suicidal, call a suicide hotline.

When will it end?

Although it does not seem possible now, there will come a time in the future when you can think about your loved one with fond memories, and without any feelings of guilt, anger, or sadness. Give yourself permission to go through the grieving process.

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