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Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One

Father and son embracing

When a person loses someone important to them, they go through a normal process called grieving. Grieving is natural and should be expected. Over time, it can allow the person to accept and understand their loss. Grieving involves feeling many different painful emotions over time, all of which help the person come to terms with the loss of a loved one.

Bereavement is what a person goes through when someone close to them dies. It is the state of having suffered a loss.

Mourning is the outward expression of loss and grief. Mourning includes rituals and other actions that are specific to each person's culture, personality, and religion. Bereavement and mourning are both part of the grieving process.

Grieving is painful, but it is important that those who have suffered a loss be allowed to express their grief, and that they be supported throughout the process. Each person will grieve for a loved one in a different way. The length and intensity of the emotions people go through will also vary from person to person.

Sometimes, people wonder how long the grieving process will last for them, and when they can expect some relief. There is no answer to this question, but some of the factors that affect the intensity and length of your grieving are:

  • The kind of relationship you had with the person who died

  • The circumstances of their death

  • Your own life experiences

Shock, numbness, and disbelief often come first

Woman crying

Many times, a person's first response to a loss is shock, disbelief, and numbness. This can last anywhere from a few hours to days or weeks. During this time, the bereaved person may feel emotionally "shut off" from the world. Still, the numbness may be disturbed by waves of distress, which are often triggered by reminders of the deceased. At these times of distress, the person may feel agitated or weak, cry, or be preoccupied with thoughts or images of the person they lost.

At some point the reality of the loss starts to sink in, and the numbness wears off. This part of the grief process, sometimes called confrontation, is when the feelings of loss are most intense and painful. This is the time the person starts to face the loss and cope with the changes the loss causes in their lives.

People have many different ways of dealing with loss, so there may be many different, equally intense emotions. During this time, grief tends to come in waves of distress. The person may seem disorganized. He or she may have trouble remembering, thinking, and doing day-to-day activities. This can last for weeks to months.

The grieving process can be very painful and difficult for people who have lost someone close to them. If necessary, bereavement counseling is a special type of professional help. You may be able to find it through hospice services or a referral from a health care provider (doctor, nurse, social worker or chaplain). This type of counseling has been shown to reduce the level of distress that mourners go through after the death of their loved one. Bereavement counseling can also help them adjust to their new lives without the deceased. One's faith, of course, can be a source of comfort.

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Updated September 1, 2011