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Despite the intense roller-coaster emotions and feeling out of control experienced by many bereaved persons, most grief is a normal albeit painful reaction to the loss of a loved one. Each individual expresses grief in his or her own way. Although grief is not time bound, the intensity of normal grief does heal over time as the bereaved adjusts to the loss.

Grief can affect people emotionally, physically, cognitively and behaviorally.

Emotional

Sadness, anger, guilt, self-reproach, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, yearning, emancipation, relief, numbness

Physical

Hollowness of the stomach, tightness of the chest, tightness of the throat, oversensitivity to noise, sense of depersonalization, breathlessness and shortness of breath, weakness of the muscles, lack of energy, dry mouth

Cognitive

Disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, sense of presence, hallucinations, lack of focus

Behavioral

Sleep disturbances, appetite disturbances, absent-mindedness, social withdrawal, dreams of the deceased, searching and calling out, sighing, restless overactivity, crying, visiting places or carrying objects, treasuring objects

Different Ways of Expressing Grief

Many grievers express their grief with emotional and behavioral grief reactions. Others, who express their grief cognitively and with physical manifestations, may appear on the surface to not be grieving, and their grief can go unrecognized and unacknowledged.

Extramarital lovers, mentally handicapped individuals, children, ex-spouses, step-parents and women who have had miscarriages and abortions are examples of others whose grief often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged. These individuals may carry their burdens alone and are often denied participation in funerals and other rites.

Stages of Grief

The grief journey involves accomplishing tasks and making choices. These tasks include:

  • accepting the reality of the loss
  • working through the pain of the grief
  • adjusting to an environment in which the deceased is missing
  • relocating the deceased and moving on
  • readjusting spiritual and philosophical systems
  • The manner and timing in which these tasks are met will vary, and each individual will find his or her own special way. Again, it's important to be kind and patient with yourself. Bereavement support groups can be helpful.

On occasion, a person may become stuck at some point in the grief journey, and grief becomes complicated. Seeking the services of a grief counselor may be helpful.

Children and Grief

Although children are not able to fully comprehend death until they're about 10 years old, they're nevertheless capable of experiencing grief from a very young age once they're able to sense separation from caregivers. Children's grief is different than adults' greif and depends on their developmental level. Children's grief may also be cyclical: Children will grieve within the confines of their developmental stage and then re-grieve the same loss again when they're more developmentally advanced.

Over time, with successful grief work, the ups and downs of grief will become less intense as the wounds of loss heal. However, what remains is often not an ending but a new beginning, as new and different but continuing bonds with a loved one are established and personal growth and transformation are discovered.

We're Here to Help

For counseling and bereavement support group referrals, contact your local chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

More to Explore

Suggested reading: books about grief

last updated on Wednesday, March 16, 2011
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