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Coping with Grief and Loss 

Grief can be experienced in reaction to any kind of loss. Can include:

  • Death of a loved one or a pet
  • The loss of: a job, your health or a loved one’s health, financial stability, security or safety, dream for your future, family home, etc.
  • Break-up or divorce
  • Miscarriage or abortion
  • Retirement
  • Graduation from school/college
  • Moving away from loved ones, or loved ones moving away
  • Grief will be stronger or more intense with more significant losses

There is no "normal" way to grieve, but there are healthy and unhealthy ways of doing so.

The Experience 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. If someone you love has died, you may keep expecting him or her to show up, even though you know he or she is gone.
  • Sadness – Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief. You may have feelings of 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. You may also feel guilty about certain reactions (e.g. relief when the person died after a long, difficult illness). After a death, you may even feel guilty for not doing something to prevent the death, even if there was nothing more you could have done.  These feelings of guilt are normal, and should not be interpreted as an indication that you have done something wrong.  As with other aspects of grief, guilty feelings tend to fade over time.
  • 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 with yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.
  • Fear – A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can trigger thoughts about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.
  • Physical symptoms – We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems, including fatigue, nausea, difficulty concentrating, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and insomnia or excessive sleeping.

For some, the grieving process is experienced in different stages.  These can include:

Denial

Denial, shock, and feelings of detachment/numbness can be common reactions, particularly after first learning of a serious loss.  This can be thought of as a protective mechanism.  By experiencing denial, a person has time to gradually become aware of the reality of the loss, without being overwhelmed too early by intense feelings.  As with other aspects of the grieving process, the experience of denial tends to subside with time, which can open the grieving person up to other feelings that may be even stronger, such as sadness or anger.

Anger

While sadness is a commonly-recognized aspect of the grieving process, many people may not expect anger to emerge at a time of loss.  Anger may be experienced as generalized feelings of irritability, such as being more easily frustrated or having a short temper.  It's also common to feel angry at a friend or loved one who is no longer here, or at the world or a higher power for the unfairness of death/loss.

Bargaining

The experience of bargaining can be a reflection of the helplessness and uncontrollable/unpreventable aspects of certain losses.  A person may speculate as to what they could have done differently that might have kept the loss from occurring, or think about what they would do or change if only they could have the person whom they have lost back in their lives.  In some cases, this bargaining can also include feelings of self-blame or guilt.

Guilt

As with other aspects of grief, guilt can take many forms.  These may include ruminating about regrets from past interactions with a loved one, blaming oneself for the situation that brought about the loss, or feeling guilty about being alive after someone else has died. In many cases, guilt can represent an attempt to cope with a loss of control.  That is, it can sometimes feel easier to blame oneself for a loss than to accept the fact that some losses are unpredictable and that tragedies can occur without warning or reason.  And as with other aspects of grieving, feelings of guilt can be easier to manage by discussing them openly with someone supportive.

Depression

It is perfectly normal to feel sadness at a time of loss. This sadness may include crying spells, loneliness, feelings of pessimism, a lack of enjoyment, or a wish to keep a distance from other people.  For depression that includes strong feelings of hopelessness or an inability to follow through on major life tasks, it is important to seek additional help from a professional.  

Acceptance

Acceptance of a loss takes time.  It is important to remember that acceptance does not mean a lack of sadness and does not mean believing that a serious loss is "acceptable." Rather, acceptance can be thought of as a stage in which the loss becomes more fully and manageably integrated into a person's life.  This stage can include acceptance of oneself for experiencing grief and an awareness of coping strategies and other sources of support.

What can I do to cope with grief and loss?

  • Turn to friends and family members – Now is the time to lean on the people who care about you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Draw loved ones close, rather than avoiding them, and accept the assistance that’s offered. Oftentimes, people want to help but don’t know how, so tell them what you need—whether it’s a shoulder to cry on or help with funeral arrangements.
  • Draw comfort from your faith – If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you—such as praying, meditating, or going to a house of worship—can offer solace. Questioning one’s faith in the wake of a loss is not uncommon.  For some, speaking to a clergy member or others in one’s religious community can be helpful.
  • Join a support group – Grief can feel very lonely, even when you have loved ones around. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help. To find a bereavement support group in your area, contact local hospitals, hospices, funeral homes, and counseling centers.
  • Talk to a therapist or grief counselor – If your grief feels like too much to bear, call a mental health professional with experience in grief counseling. An experienced therapist can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.
  • Face your feelings. In order to heal, it is important to acknowledge the pain of grieving. Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss tends to prolong 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. Write about your loss in a journal. If you’ve lost a loved one, 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.

What can I do to help a friend or family member who is grieving the loss of a loved one?

  • Remain supportive
  • Provide a listening ear
  • Avoid judgments
  • Encourage the person to seek professional help, if applicable
  • Seek to understand, but refrain from using cliches or saying, "I know how you feel."

Some other links/articles that you may find helpful:

Grief: Coping with the Loss of a Loved One

Coping with the Death of a Loved One

Grief and Loss

Books on Death and Grieving

  • Final Passages by Judith Ahronheim & Doron Weber
  • The Scarred Soul by Tracy Alderman
  • How to Survive the Loss of a Love by Harold H. Bloomfield, Melba Colgrave & Peter McWilliams
  • The Living Will by Joseph E. Beltran
  • On Death And Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  • Necessary Losses by Judith Viorst

Resources

SIUE Counseling Services

618-650-2842 SSC 0220

Open M-F 8am-4:30pm

http://www.siue.edu/counseling/


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