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Bereavement Support Services
Coping with Grief


There is very little written about expectations in the life of the grieving person. Many times the unrealistic expectations of ourselves and of others can greatly hinder the eventual readjustment for the bereaved. In wishing to “handle it better,” we often keep expecting more from ourselves that is possible at this time. When we don’t  feel better, or act better, and yet think that we should, we become disappointed in ourselves. We have just expected too much of ourselves.

A timetable for grief may be part of the expectation. If I read that one stage took a certain length of time and I wasn’t there yet, I would panic that I wasn’t “where I should be.”

Often family and friends unwittingly place expectations on us.  “It has been 3 weeks,” “3 months” or “8 months” and “you must be better now” “you must be back to normal.”  These expressed or even implied, unrealistic expectations by or of others become a pressure on the bereaved.

After the shock and denial, the very pain-filled reality hits. This grief is unbearable heartache and sorrow. Unbearable. Yet we have no choice. We must go through it. Complicating this stage is the fact that most people expect that by now you’re recovering, when in reality you are not. Many find talking about their feelings helps. Generally, thinking them out them out is enough, since usually grief feelings can’t be intellectualized away or thought away. A common experience of many grieving people is that the people we expect to be most supportive often move away from us just when we need them most.  This bewildering phenomenon can be attributed in part to a general lack of knowledge of what grief is, leading to unrealistic expectations being placed on the bereaved person. Sometimes it is helpful to communicate about our loss with someone new, since some old friends often just want us to return to our old selves again, which is unrealistic on their part.

After the holidays or anniversary of the death, grieving people may expect that everything will be much better. The New Year is often a time of resolutions – of intending to change some habit or attitude. It is not helpful to expect to be much better.  When things do not get better, we become discouraged. It may be more helpful to consider January 1st as the day after December 31st. Without such unrealistic expectations of the New Year, or of the time after the anniversary, it may gradually become a time of healing and growth; not because we expected it, but because we did not have unrealistic expectations. It is important not to have a timetable for grief.


Unrealistically we hope that things will somehow be the same…that our life – our family – will get back to “normal/”  As time goes on, we realize that “it will never be the same.” We will always miss our loved one who has died.  At special holidays and family gatherings, there is always one person missing.  Some family members and friends assume that we are back to normal. They just do not understand.

Copyright : HOPE FOR THE BEREAVED, all rights reserved.

Facing Loss

Guidelines to Facilitate Healing and Wholeness Through the Grieving Process

  • Let yourself grieve
  • Be good to yourself, be gentle with yourself
  • Allow yourself the necessary time to reflect and to feel your pain
  • Accept all the feelings you are experiencing
  • Know that you are particularly vulnerable when you are grieving
  • Forgive others who do not understand
  • Allow new people to come into your life
  • When possible and appropriate, ritualize the loss
  • Do not waste time and energy on attempting to re-kindle a relationship
    that has been destructive and has not contributed to your growth
  • Develop an on-going and caring relationship with someone
  • Hold on to photos and other mementos that are important to you
  • Be with the heaviness, the pain, when it is with you, and when is lifts,
    be with that experience, as well
  • Be comfortable with having a low profile
  • Tears are a release and cleansing
  • Proper nutrition enhances the healing process

Grief Needs

Taking Care of Yourself:

  • Rest every day.
  • Set aside alone time to reflect.
  • Share your loss with someone who cares.
  • Exercise, if possible, to release some energy.
  • Eat well to nourish your stressed body.
  • Spend time with those you love.
  • Live simply to reduce financial burdens.
  • Begin a simple daily routine that may help motivate you in the morning.
  • Allow others to comfort you.
  • Connect with others who have also felt great pain in the past and survived. We all need hope.
  • Set short-term goals even though you don’t seem to care much about life. As time goes on, you will be able to do more and more and may even occasionally enjoy some activities.
  • Stay open to all experiences, and you will be led to a valuable path in life.
  • Appreciate the little things in life by being present to each and every moment. All we have is the “NOW.”
  • Understand that the process of grief takes a very long time and is filled with backslides---one step forward, two steps back. This is normal.
  • Accept that however you feel is okay. No one has the right to tell you how to grieve or how long to grieve.
  • Trust that human beings are self-regulating systems. Even without much effort, we begin to slowly heal from grief, so be gentle with yourself.
  • Down the road, look for the deepest meaning of your sorrow---what you have learned. Often you will find that your life has been totally transformed because of being touched by deep pain. You will never forget your pain, and it is through the “remembering” of the pain that compassion extends from one person to another. You will begin to heal when you meet with someone who is grieving a new loss, and you reach out to help because you have the capacity and the willingness to care about this person. In opening yourself up to more than your own pain, the kindness and love will some how be reciprocated.
  • Remember, that although it seems that there is no justice in the world, there is definitely compensation. It takes a very long time to realize this, but one day this awareness will come to you. TRUST… TRUST… TRUST.
  • Pain is very much a part of life as is healing. You did not ask for the pain, but it came…just as the healing will come to you. Please have patience and be kind to yourself.
  • PEACE.


Grief is a normal reaction to loss that everyone at some point in life will experience.  There are many types of losses such as personal death, death of a loved one, health problems, divorce, loss of work, failure in school or work, or destruction of one’s home or possessions.

Depending on the attachment to what was lost, an individual may grieve for an extended period of time.  Most responses, although frequently appearing to be much too lengthy by others, are in actuality quite normal.

The following list encompasses symptoms of grief commonly expressed by those faced with a physical (tangible) or symbolic (psychosocial) loss:

  • Crying
  • Anger
  • Shock or numbness
  • Obsessional review
  • Dreaming of the deceased
  • Preoccupation with the deceased
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Withdrawing from life and others
  • Yearning for what has been lost
  • Disorganization
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Jealousy
  • Screaming
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite disturbances
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loneliness
  • Guilt
  • Self-reproach
  • Sometimes relief
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feelings of going crazy

Physical symptoms during grief may include tightness in the throat, choking sensation, loss of muscular strength, somatic distress, sighing, empty feelings in the abdomen, back aches, anorexia, dry mouth, dyspnea, headaches and exhaustion or physical collapse.

Evidence is also accumulating to support the view that grief may well play a role in the etiology of disease. Stress experienced during the long period of grief may bring about feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. As a result of this hopelessness, physiological responses are triggered that restrain the body’s natural defenses. 

Thus, when the immune system breaks down, the body is then susceptible to illness. Understanding this connection between grief, anxiety and illness may help us to realize the importance of grieving openly and learning some healthy coping mechanisms. This, in turn, may alleviate some of the internal stress in the body that plays a preconditioning role in organic illness.

The all-encompassing process of grief is considered to be highly personal and its duration varies from person top person. Previously it was suggested that grieving for one year was enough time to work through the pain. However, recent studies indicate that in the case of major loss, a person may not come out of shock or numbness for months or longer and then begin the slow process of intense grief work, which may persist for a very long time. The mourner’s whole life will be completely changed, but a different and enriched life can be established. The crisis has the potential to force the mourner to reach inside the reservoirs of unknown strength, courage and love that might surpass anything ever known before.

For those who wish to assist grieving individuals, it’s best to be present in a quiet manner, listen, show empathy, be patient and never judge. Rarely does pushing someone through grief or judging his/her behavior help. In fact, it may exacerbate the expression of grief and preclude healing communication. Being caring and compassionate can be much more accommodating during this painful life experience.

Needs for the Bereaved

Time: You will need time alone and time with others whom you trust and who will listen when you need to talk…months and years of time to feel and understand the feelings that go along with loss.

Rest, Relaxation, Exercise, Nourishment, Diversion: You may need extra amounts of things you needed before…hot baths, afternoon naps, a trip, a “cause” to draw you out of your mourning.  Grief is an exhausting emotional process.  You need to replenish yourself.  Follow what feels healing to you and what connects you to the people and things you love.

Security: Get help on things that are stressful (e.g., financial matters, parenting, etc.).  Let yourself be close to those you trust. Getting back into a routine helps. You may need to let yourself do things at your pace.

Hope: You may find hope and comfort from those who have experienced a similar loss.  Knowing what helped them and realizing that they are surviving well can help give you hope that your grief, too, will become less raw and painful.

Caring: Try to let yourself accept expressions of caring from others, even though they may at times feel awkward.  Helping a friend or relative who is suffering the same loss may bring a feeling of closeness with that person.

Goals: For a long time it may seem that much of life is without meaning. At times like these, small goals are helpful.  Something to look forward to – like playing tennis with a friend next week, a movie tomorrow night, a trip next month – helps you get through the immediate future. Living one day at a time is a rule of thumb. At first, don’t be surprised if your enjoyment of these things is not the same.  This is normal. As time passes you may need to work on some longer-range goals to give some structure and direction to your life. Counseling may help with this.

Small Pleasures: Do not underestimate the healing effects of small pleasures –sunsets, a walk in the woods, a favorite food, etc. Little things like these can be small steps toward regaining moments of peace.  

Permission to Backslide: Sometimes after a period of feeling good, we find ourselves back in the old feelings of extreme sadness, despair or anger. This is often the nature of grief, and it may happen over and over for a while. It happens because we, as humans, cannot take in all the pain and meaning of death at once. We let it in a little at a time, and with each new step in awareness, we re-experience fresh pain. 

Normal Feelings During Grief

Because grief can be so painful and seem overwhelming, it can frighten us Many people who are in a grief situation seem to wonder if they are grieving in the “right” way, and wonder if their feelings are normal.

It may be reassuring that most people who suffer a loss experience one or more of the following:

  • Feel a tightness in the throat or a heaviness in the chest
  • Have an empty feeling in their stomachs and lose their appetites
  • Feel guilty at times; angry at others
  • Feel restless and look for an activity but find it difficult to concentrate
  • Feel as though the loss is not real, that it didn’t really happen
  • Sense the child’s presence.  Example: find themselves expecting the child to walk in the door, hearing his/her voice or seeing his/her face
  • Wander aimlessly, forget and be unable to finish projects
  • Have difficulty sleeping and dream of their child frequently
  • Experience an intense preoccupation with the life of the child
  • Feel guilty or angry over things that did or did not happen in the relationship with the child
  • Feel intensely angry at the child for leaving them
  • Need to tell and retell and remember things about the child and the experience of death
  • Feel mood changes/cry unexpectedly over the slightest thing
  • Feel out of place with other people

If you should have physical symptoms, it is a good idea to check with your physician. Your resistance to infection may be lowered and you need to take care of your health.

Personal Attributes That Help The Bereaved

You may not believe at first that you have these qualities in large amounts, but begin by assuming that you have some amount of all of them. Picture how you would act if you possessed them to a greater degree.

COURAGE – You need the courage to face your feelings in order to grieve.  Courage is being afraid, but doing it anyway.

PATIENCE – Accept that you will not always be strong and that grief will take time.

RESILIENCE – The capacity to bounce back from stress and go on is something we can learn; our ability to do this increases with experience and age.

PERSEVERANCE AND ENDURANCE – Have the faith that lasting through the pain will get you through.

CAPACITY TO DISTANCE – It can be helpful to step back and view life from afar, see what has happened, is happening, and move ahead.

SENSE OF HUMOR – regaining your ability to smile and laugh is not a betrayal of your pain; grief is a curious mixture of many emotions.  Laughter and humor provide some necessary relief and strength for the suffering you are experiencing.

OPENNESS TO OTHERS – Many people say that without friends and relatives to support them, they would have had far more pain and loneliness in their grief.  Choose your confidants carefully and use them.  You may be wise to choose more than one.

MESSAGES - These are possible messages you may choose to accept to guide your approach to life from now on (or you may create your own).

  • I will not hide my love from people.
  • I resolve to help my friends in need of support.
  • I am strong; I can grow from pain.
  • I intend to live my life to the fullest; my time is precious.
  • I have learned ________________________________.

How We Respond to Loss

When we face the death or ending of someone or something we love, the loss may be expressed emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically. Due to the intensity of the grief, the responses expressed are considered normal and healthy.

Physical experiences

  • Inability to sleep or excessive sleep
  • Exhaustion, no energy
  • Appetite disturbances
  • Tightness in chest area
  • Sighing
  • Loss of muscular strength
  • Headaches
  • Ulcers
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in throat or lump in throat
  • Nervousness

Emotional experiences

  • Numbness
  • Fear
  • Inner hollowness
  • Denial
  • Shock
  • Loneliness
  • Panic
  • Rage/anger
  • Hopelessness
  • Powerlessness
  • Shame
  • Guilt, self-blame
  • Disorganization, difficulty in concentrating

Spiritual Responses

  • Changes in priorities
  • Searching for meaning in the loss
  • Thankfulness for the precious time with loved one before death occurred
  • Strong interest in life after death
  • Interest in premonitions
  • Questioning and eventually maturing prior belief system
  • Belief that loved one is now healthy, whole and always with them
  • Belief in the ‘mystery’ of life and a purpose in every life, even though
    profound loss is inexplicable from an intellectual perspective

Psychological responses

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability and explosive responses
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inability to experience any type of pleasure
  • Isolation over an extended period of time
  • Lack of interest
  • Prolonged negativity