loss of a Loved One
Frequently Asked Questions
Many people do not know what to expect when a Loved One they
passes away. In many places today, the process of grieving is not well
understood. As a result, grievers and their grieving behavior are often not
accepted and supported in the way they deserve to be. Following are various
questions that bereaved people, and those who relate to bereaved people, often
- How long does grief last?
When will it be over? Unfortunately, there is no simple and
clear answer. There are too many variables to predict with any accuracy how
long someone will be in grief. Every griever is unique, as measured by their
personality, their coping behaviors, their previous experiences with grief,
their relationship with the one who died, and many other factors. Every
experience of loss is also unique, including how expected the death was, and
whether or not someone was responsible for the death, to name just a few of the
One's religious faith, one's support system (or lack
thereof), the ability to participate in funeral rituals -- these and many other
factors influence each individual's grieving process. So the answer is this:
grief will last as long as it is supposed to last. Usually grief is a
self-limiting process. It will end when it naturally comes to a conclusion. For
some people and some relationships, that may be a matter of a few months. For
others grief may be measured in years: perhaps one or two for certain kinds of
deaths, or even three to five years for more serious or unexpected or traumatic
deaths. There is a sense in which certain griefs may never end, depending on
your age and the extent of your loss.
- Do all people grieve alike?
No, there is no prescribed way to grieve. Many cry and some
do not. Many feel very sad and want to talk about it. Others want to deal with
it more on their own. Most people report that their grief comes and goes
unpredictably, almost like a roller coaster. But not everyone reports that.
Some people feel worse early on, while others find that their most difficult
times come months or sometimes even years afterwards.
- What are the signs of grieving?
There are many possible feelings one might have. Sadness,
anxiety, anger, guilt, tiredness, helplessness, and loneliness are often
reported. Some people feel shame, others feel relief. There are also certain
physical sensations one might have: tightness in the chest or throat, pain in
the heart area, heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea, trembling. People in
grief sometimes don't sleep well, or they sleep too much. The same goes for
their eating habits -- they eat too little, or too much, or they eat
inappropriately. They may have unusual dreams or nightmares, be absent-minded,
withdraw socially, or engage in restless over-activity. All of these feelings
and behaviors are normal during grief.
- Is it normal to feel like you're going crazy during
That's one of the most normal feelings of all. A time of
grief is an unusual time, even a "crazy" time, in one's life. In a crazy period
it can make perfect sense to act a little crazy oneself. Many people, perhaps
the majority, wonder if this is happening to them at one time or another in
their grieving process. The best thing to do is to remember that one is in good
company with many others. "The crazies" will pass.
- Do men and women grieve differently?
It often seems so. The stereotype is that women are more
expressive with their feelings and men are more stoic. Women, it is said, give
in to their grief more and men fight it off. Women, the theory holds, seek more
support from others and men tend to go it alone. Those are all stereotypes that
sometimes fit and sometimes don't. It's important to remember that every person
has both masculine and a feminine elements.
So the truth is probably closer to this: some people are more
quiet and solitary in their grief and some are more expressive and emotional.
Some prefer to work through their grief by actively asserting themselves
through various actions, while others are more comfortable giving in to their
grief and allowing it to move through them. It's not a matter of men being one
way and women being another. It's a matter of different people being
comfortable expressing their grief in different ways, whether they're men or
- Is it morbid to talk about the Loved One who has died?
Not at all. The Loved One who has died is still a part of the
lives of those who have survived. There is still a relationship. That
relationship cannot evolve in the way it once did but it can still be a source
of meaning and strength. Remembering the Loved One who died and speaking their
name is a healthy way of developing a new kind of bond -- one of the heart and
the soul rather than of the body.
- Is it possible to feel the presence of the Loved One who
Many people report such experiences. It's usually hard to pin
down the experience and put it into words. But sometimes there is the feeling
that the Loved One who has died is somehow nearby, if not physically then
emotionally or spiritually. These are usually comforting and confirming
- How important is the funeral?
Research is indicating that some kind of ceremonial farewell
is often quite instrumental in helping the bereaved adjust to the death of a
Loved One. Those who do not take the opportunity to acknowledge publicly and
formally that something significant has happened in their lives may find
themselves experiencing more difficulty in the grieving process.
- What helps with the grieving process?
Above all else, what usually helps the most is being able to
talk with at least one person about one's feelings -- all the ups and downs,
the sadness and the fear, the memories and the hopes. Sometimes bereaved people
want to talk with several different people about what is happening with them.
Others find value in joining a grief support group. However one chooses, one
needs to get one's feelings off one's chest.
There are ways of doing that other than talking, of course.
Writing can be quite valuable -- keeping a journal of one's thoughts and
feelings, or writing letters to the Loved One who has died, or composing
stories of one's memories, or creating poetry. Some people prefer to express
their grief in other ways -- for example, through painting or sculpture, or by
sewing or woodworking. Some find meaning in working on a project --
creating a memorial, or starting
a project that will help others.
One small thing that almost always helps is being able to
spend time in nature, and to do so at least once a day. Looking at the created
world around you and being in touch with the natural rhythms of life and death
can be both healing and restorative.
- How common is it for other losses to come to mind when a
new loss occurs?
This happens quite commonly. An experience of grief brings to
mind those other times when someone or something left us and we felt alone.
That can intensify the feelings that are already there. It's also true that if
one has not entirely resolved one's previous losses, those memories will likely
come to the fore with a real urgency. That is their way of wanting to work
themselves out so that one's full health is eventually restored.
- Can one control one's grief?
No, you cannot determine exactly what you will feel and when
you will feel it. Grief does not work that way. But you can take an active role
in how your grief unfolds. You can be intentional about taking good care of
yourself, by eating and sleeping well, getting plenty of exercise, and doing
things that you enjoy. You can treat yourself well by giving yourself little
presents from time to time -- an evening out, a favorite treat, or maybe just a
vase of fresh flowers to enjoy. You can choose to be among people you enjoy and
avoid those who do not understand your loss. You can do things for other's and
realize that you can still make a difference in others' lives, even if you're
missing desperately a loved one.
- Where does one find hope after a Loved One has died?
Many are the times that people report they have grown
stronger as a result of the loss they have experienced. They grow more mature,
more understanding of others, more aware of themselves. Many people learn new
lessons about the meaning of life, as well as the meaning of love. These are
often difficult lessons, lessons one wishes one did not have to learn in this
way. But they are gateways into a brighter future.
Many people report finding hope and confirmation in this
affirmation written by Dr. Jim Miller:
An Affirmation of Those Who Have Lost
I believe there is no denying it: it hurts to lose.
to lose a cherished relationship with another,
or a significant part of
one's own self.
It can hurt to lose that which has united one with the
or that which has beckoned one into the future.
It is painful to
feel diminished or abandoned,
to be left behind or left alone.
believe there is more to losing than just the hurt and the pain.
are other experiences that loss can call forth.
I believe that courage
however quietly it is expressed,
however easily it goes
unnoticed by others:
the courage to be strong enough to surrender,
fortitude to be firm enough to be flexible.
the bravery to go where one has
not gone before.
I believe a time of loss can be a time of learning unlike
and that it can teach some of life's most valuable lessons:
In the act of losing, there is something to be found.
In the act of letting
go, there is something to be grasped.
In the act of saying "good-bye,"
there is a "hello" to be heard.
For I believe that living with loss is
about beginnings as well as endings.
And grieving is a matter of life more
than of death.
And growing is a matter of mind and heart and soul more than
And loving is a matter of eternity more than of time.
I believe in the promising paradoxes of loss:
In the midst of darkness,
there can come a great Light.
At the bottom of despair, there can appear a
And deep within loneliness, there can dwell a great Love.
believe these things because others have shown the way--
others who have
lost and then have grown through their losing,
others who have suffered and
then found new meaning.
So I know I am not alone:
I am accompanied, day
after night, night after day.
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Adapted from the writings of Jim Miller, author of What Will
Help Me: 12 Things to Remember When You Have Suffered a Loss. and How
Can I Help?