James J. De Santis, Ph.D.
Post Office Box 894, Glendora, CA 91740-0894
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What is Grief?
Grief is an emotional response to a significant loss. Grieving is a normal
process. We go through grief in order to heal.
Among events that can trigger grief are:
The death of a loved one
Loss of a loved one through divorce or separation
End of a job or career by layoff or termination
Loss of a body part or a physical function
Receiving a diagnosis of a serious illness
Death of a pet
Although grief is among those universal of human experiences, our response
will be highly personal and individualized. Our response will be influenced by
the scope and circumstances of our loss, our own personality, our cultural
or religious background, our life experiences, prior losses, amount of contact
we have with reminders of the loss, responsibilities we now face, and new
changes in life that we may be coping with. Our response must be treated
with the greatest respect and compassion.
During the initial phases of grief and loss, we might experience a temporary
disruption in our usual activities. The amount of time this takes can vary
from person to person. There is no "right" amount of time for grief to
resolve. But with time, grief does subside, and we do adjust, even if we still
feel the occasional ache of our loss.
Signs of Grief
The core experience of loss is pain. However, while we may have been
taught to expect the familiar experience of sadness, a variety of equally
normal and predictable experiences can also mark the process of loss. Some
of these may seem new or unexpected.
On first becoming aware of a significant loss, we may experience shock,
disbelief, feelings of unreality, or a sense of loss of contact with other
people who may be going about life as usual.
We may experience an emptiness, emotional numbness, or an absence of
emotions altogether. We may lose interest in usual activities.
We may feel anger at the unfairness of our loss. We may blame others for
We may feel guilt for not preventing the loss. We may feel regret for things
we didn't do or for conflicts we left unresolved. We may experience a sense
of shame for not feeling the sadness we believe we ought to feel at this
We may feel anxiety, fear, or dread about how life will be forever changed.
We may feel waves of deep sadness, hopelessness, or despair.
We may experience physiological changes like fatigue, feeling physically
drained, loss of appetite, nausea, weight changes, or inability to sleep.
We may experience wide or rapid swings among all these states.
What You Can Do
A number of steps may help move you through and resolve your own grief
Set aside time to grieve.
Allow and express your feelings about your loss.
Avoid isolating yourself.
Spend time with relatives or friends for support.
Get plenty of rest and regular physical activity.
Avoid alcohol or drugs that can mask your feelings.
Postpone making major decisions for awhile.
Lighten your workload for awhile.
Relatives and friends may be able to help a grieving person in a number of
A visit will be remembered long after calls or flowers.
Listen attentively and patiently.
Don't avoid talking about the loss.
Encourage the person to talk about their loss.
Respect the person's wishes if they don't want to talk.
Avoid saying, "I know how you feel."
Share similar experiences and feelings you have had.
Allow the person the time to fully process their loss.
Do not rush them to "get over it."
Avoid reassurances that "everything will be alright."
Be attentive to anniversaries of the loss.
Offer specific suggestions for how you might help.
When To Seek Help
Most people can resolve grief on their own. However, for some people the
process of grieving can become blocked or prolonged. Grief can become
disrupted if the circumstances of our loss were violent or sudden, involved a
child, if we experienced multiple losses at the same time, or if we don't have
a strong social support system. Unresolved grief can occur if we were
taught to grieve alone, to ignore feelings, or to never let go of feelings.
Unresolved grief may be occurring if we find ourselves engaging in some of
the following problem activities:
Suppressing painful feelings, memories, or reminders of our loss.
Unwillingness to talk about the loss.
Withdrawing from relatives and friends, rejecting their emotional support and
Attempting to prolong grief through forced rumination about the loss.
Letting grief cause problems at work or with other people.
Ignoring the necessary maintenance of our own physical well-being.
Abusing alcohol or other drugs.
Making impulsive or risky decisions or contemplating self-destructive acts.
If the grief process is disrupted, we can begin to lose the ability to function
normally. In such circumstances, a person should seek out support from
relatives and friends, clergy, support groups, grief counselors, social service
agencies, physicians, employee assistance programs, or mental health
Accepting Life's Losses