Feelings and Reactions to a Significant Loss

Grief is a necessary process that helps an individual adjust to a loss, a normal reaction to the loss of a significant someone or something in your life. There are no scripts about how to grieve or how long to grieve, and everyone reacts to loss at his or her own pace. But all people who experience a significant loss share a range of common emotions and feelings, all of them normal.

Feelings Often Experienced While Grieving

Sadness

  • The most common reaction, sadness is sometimes exhibited by crying

Anger

  • Frequently felt and often one of the most confusing feelings
  • Unacknowledged anger can lead to complicated grief
  • Turned inward, anger can cause depression or suicidal feelings
  • Anger comes from two sources:
    • A sense of frustration that the death was not prevented
    • A regressive or more childlike reaction to being abandoned
  • A mourner might blame someone else for the death to make sense of the loss or to validate that it could have been prevented

Guilt

  • Guilt is often associated with something that happened or something that was neglected around the time of the death
  • Anxiety

    • The more intense and persistent the anxiety, the more outside help is needed to process the grief reaction
    • Anxiety comes from:
      • Fear of being unable to care for yourself
      • Awareness of your own mortality

    Fatigue

    • Tiredness and fatigue are often seen and experienced as apathy and listlessness

    Shock

    • Can occur with both sudden and anticipated deaths

    Loneliness

    Helplessness

    Yearning for the lost person

    Relief

    • Common when the deceased person suffered before the death
    • Guilt can follow a feeling of relief

    Numbness

  • A lack of feelings often occurs shortly after a death
  • Physical Sensations Often Experienced While Grieving

    • An empty feeling in the stomach or loss of appetite
    • Tightness in chest or throat
    • Fatigue, insomnia
    • Over-sensitivity to noise or irritability
    • Heavy and repeated sighing
    • Tearfulness
    • Shortness of breath, dry mouth, lack of muscle power

    Thoughts Often Experienced While Grieving

    Disbelief

    • Typical reaction when first learning of the death of a loved one
    • A sense of depersonalization (nothing seems real)

    Confusion

    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Inability to organize one's thoughts

    Forgetfulness

    Preoccupation

    • Constant thoughts of the deceased and/or how to get the deceased person back

    Hallucinations (Sensing the presence of the deceased)

    • Visual and auditory

    Behaviors Often Experienced While Grieving

    • Changes in appetite and sleeping patterns
    • Absent-minded behavior or restless over-activity
    • Social withdrawal or avoidance of things that are reminders of the person who died
    • Dreaming of the deceased
    • Searching for and calling out for the deceased
    • Sighing, crying, visiting places or carrying/treasuring mementos of the deceased

    Find out if hospice care could help your loved one.

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