Coping with Grief

As we learn to cope with our loss and adjust to a changed situation, we may go through many changes of feelings, thoughts and behaviours. We may even question our spiritual beliefs. This is grief in action. Everyone reacts differently and will come to terms with loss in their own time.

​However, there are some reactions to death and dying that are common to many people. As you make your way through the grief process be patient with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Consider talking to a friend who will listen without judgement, or write in a private journal to express your feelings.

Caring for yourself is perhaps one of the most difficult things for us to do. Often we are busy and worried about how other people are coping and put off looking after ourselves. The process of our grief is unique to us because our relationship with the deceased is personal and making meaning of this loss may be complex, bewildering and painful. It will take time to adjust to life without them.


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Common feelings associated with grief

It is important to understand the various experiences of grief. Each person has his or her own timetable and his or her own style of grief. You may struggle with several feelings at the same time. The depth and duration of each experience is different for everyone. You may experience a feeling briefly, intermittently or struggle with it daily. Understanding the various phases helps you to cope. Knowing that others have gone through this pain and have eventually been able to reinvest themselves in life gives one a sense of hope.


“It can’t be true.” You keep thinking that any minute you will wake up from a bad dream/nightmare.

Sometimes you can’t cry at first because you don’t really believe it happened. Often people will comment on “How well you are doing.” Inside you know that the reason you appear to be doing so well is that you just dont believe it


Shock is nature’s way of softening the blow. It serves as a cushion – giving you time to absorb the fact of your loss.

You hear the words, but do not comprehend the full impact. Emotions seem frozen. You feel disoriented, restless, numb, bewildered, stunned and unable to think. You go through the motions like a robot and feel as if you are an observer watching this happen to someone else.


You may find that you are saying almost the same things to the same people. The same thoughts keep running through your head. In saying the words and hearing ourselves over and over again, it helps us to believe what has happened. It is important to find friends who will listen, especially someone who has experienced a similar sorrow.


Sobbing means to weep aloud with short, gasping breaths. Sobbing is an outlet for the deep strong emotions that accompany the death of a loved one. Some people cry often and cry a lot. Others push down their tears, but this may lead to psychological or physical problems. It is helpful to cry – to release all that pent up emotion. Cry alone or with others – but take time to cry. Accept the grief – don’t try to be brave and fight it. At first, you need to take time to grieve daily. Looking at pictures/mementos, playing special music, may aid in releasing pent-up tears. Men can and should cry. Crying is a good model for children. When adults cry, children learn that it is ‘okay’ to cry and to express their feelings. Children learn to share their feelings instead of suppressing them and struggling alone.

Anxiety/Panic (Fear of Losing Control)

At first you may fear being alone. You worry about the future and may be afraid that something else will happen to another loved one. You often panic at the approach of special dates (birthdays, holidays, anniversary of the death). Usually they are not as difficult as the days prior to the special days. This is due to our unbelievable panic and apprehension. You may feel as if you are ‘Going Crazy’. It may seem as if you are losing control of yourself. Usually we don’t tell anyone that we think that we are ‘going insane’. Sometimes bereaved have thoughts of suicide as the only way to escape the physical and emotional pain. We panic at the prospect of ‘always feeling like this’. We feel that we should be doing better and panic when we don’t. Our situation may seem hopeless and our thinking becomes jumbled. Panic is normal. If panic seems intolerable, you need to do something about it. Talking abour out feelings, getting busy with something, sobbing, screaming, exercise – all may help to release the ‘panicky’ feelings. Emotional and physical fatigue contribute to our panic. Good nutrition and rest are vital.

Reality of Death

‘It’s true.’ ‘It really happened.’ This is a frightening time. We feel that we are getting worse. Often this happens after people who have been so helpful have left. It seems as if we are going backwards. Actually, this reality has to ‘hit’. The best advice is to ‘lean into the pain’. As much as we don’t want to hurt, we must.


‘I can’t think.’ ‘I forget what I am saying halfway through a sentence.’ The simplest decisions seem impossible. It is difficult to concentrate and follow through on things. You feel disorganised and error-prone. Bereaved often feel impatient and want to do something, but feel unclear as to what to do. Sometimes motivation to do something may be very low and basic survival needs may not even be met. 


At first, you may only focus on the best qualities – seeing your loved one as perfect. It is a very normal reaction, but it is important to be aware of others in the family. They may compare themselves to the ‘perfect’ loved one and feel that they are not as loved – that it would be better if they had died instead.


Your loved one who has died may be in your thoughts constantly. You may think of nothing but the loss. You may even dream of your loved one, or be preoccupied with his/her image. Even at work, church, doing the dishes – in fact, no matter what you are doing – you may find that part of your thoughts are always about your loved one. The intensity of this preoccupation usually lessens with time.


Many people seek to identify with their loved one who has died by wearing their clothes, taking up a sport they liked, planning to follow in their footsteps, etc. It is a way of ‘staying close’.

​Lowered Self-Esteem

A bereaved person’s confidence is often under-minded. In a study on self-esteem using a scale of 100, it was found that an average person’s self-esteem was in the 70’s and generally a bereaved person’s was in the teens. Understanding the impact of grief on your self-esteem may help you find ways of coping.

Relief (Laughter)

This phase comes and goes. Often after the reality ‘hits,’ or after a particularly troublesome time, you feel better and may even think that the difficult times are over. There is a sense of great relief at no longer feeling down. Appreciate the relief, the grief will return soon enough. It is helpful to recall the fun times.

Wholesome fun and laughter are beneficial. It is not being disloyal to our loved one to enjoy life. In fact, plan things to which you can look forward. Having a sense of humour is often mentioned by bereaved as being helpful.


It is a feeling of being in the ‘pits’. You hurt so much.

Sometimes you just don’t care about anything. You just sit. Mornings are terrible. So is the time and the day of the week that your loved one died. It’s an effort just to get out of bed, to shop, or fix a simple meal. Talk things over with a friend who cares and will listen. This is one action that may help a person not to become seriously depressed. Talking to others in a support group of bereaved people who know what you are going through also helps a great deal.