Dealing with Grief

Feelings of loss are extremely personal – often prompted by the death of a close friend or family member, or the breakup of a serious relationship. But grief can also have subtler causes: weakened physical or mental states, the death of a pet, a move to a new home or financial upheaval.

Grief is a natural – and universal – response to loss, but the grieving process itself is intensely personal. Everyone grieves in their own way and their own time: some freely discuss their feelings or seek support, while others mourn losses in a more solitary manner.

This page and its links are designed to help normalize what you may experience in the wake of a significant loss, or to help you understand the grieving process of a loved one.

The Grief Experience

Many of us worry about the “right” way to grieve, though it’s by now widely accepted everyone’s grief is unique. There are, however, certain commonly-shared symptoms of grief, which manifest themselves in varying degrees:

Shock and disbelief – Even when it’s anticipated, a loss can be difficult to accept, and can often lead to feelings of numbness and denial.

Sadness – Running the gamut from loneliness to despair – and characterized by crying jags and periods of emotional instability – sadness is one of grief’s most universal symptoms.

Guilt – In the wake of a death, it’s common to regret things left unsaid and deeds left undone – even to wrongly feel responsible for not preventing it from happening.

Anger – Even when no one’s at fault, the loss of a loved one can stir up feelings of anger and resentment. Blame is often shifted to doctors or God – or to the loved one, by whom you might now feel abandoned.

Fear – It’s natural to feel helpless, anxious or insecure – to worry, for example, about how you’ll fare with a loved one no longer in your life.

Physical Symptoms – Grief doesn’t just affect emotions. It can also cause fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.

Typical reactions to grief include:
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Irritability or anger
  • Frustration
  • Feelings of being misunderstood
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Change in appetite
  • Wandering aimlessly
  • Forgetting/not finishing things
  • Preoccupation with loss
  • Mood swings
  • Unexpected crying
  • Dwelling on details of the loss
  • Feelings of anxiety or nervousness
  • Feelings of guilt or remorse
  • Feelings of ambivalence
  • Numbness

How can you cope with grief?

  • Talk to family or friends
  • Follow regular eating/sleeping patterns
  • Observe a daily routine, but avoid being too busy
  • Take time to think, feel, relax and heal
  • Avoid making any life-altering decisions
  • Be patient with yourself
  • Spend time alone — listen to music, write in a journal, take walks, or learn a new hobby
  • Set goals for yourself; be encouraged by your progress
  • Choose relaxation, leisure, exercise or massage over alcohol, sedatives, and other means of self-medicating
  • Seek counselling or join a support group

The above represent healthy coping mechanisms; others – like isolation or substance abuse – cause further harm. Coping skills can’t remove your feelings of loss entirely, but they can help you process your grief more effectively.

How can you support others who are grieving?

  • Provide a listening ear
  • Allow them to feel sad
  • Refrain from minimizing their grief
  • Ask questions about their loss; share stories of your own losses
  • Ask about their feelings; share your own
  • Acknowledge their pain

People who are grieving often feel isolated or alone, especially once the initial shock wears off. Well-meaning friends sometimes avoid those who are grieving for fear of making them feel worse – always remember it’s better to feel awkward while comforting a friend who’s grieving than not to comfort them at all.