Coping with Grief

When Someone You Know Dies…

No matter what the age or relationship of the person who dies, facing a loss is difficult. Death is hard whenever we experience it and leaves us with many emotions and thoughts that are hard to understand.

About grief

The reaction we have to any loss is called grief. Grief is a normal emotional, physical, social, cognitive and spiritual process of adjusting to loss. Because grief can be so painful, people often wonder if what they are feeling and thinking is normal. The process can feel overwhelming and create fear unless we know what to expect.

Most of us do not realize that grief affects us physically as well as emotionally. Often bereaved people know that they do not feel well but do not relate it to their grief. Our emotions are powerful and do affect our physical health. Grief is a very individual experience: no two people grieve alike.

Normal grief reactions

numbness, shock, disbelief, confusion a need to retell the story over and over
preoccupation with the deceased dreams, visions
sadness, depression sleep disturbances
hopelessness, despair illness and symptoms
feeling of being lost appetite decreased or increased
anger, bitterness weak, tired
guilt, regret physical ache or empty feeling (in the stomach area, a “gut” feeling)
fear that another loss will happen soon tightness in throat, heaviness in chest
inability to concentrate absent minded
mood changes restless feeling
crying at unexpected times overactivity – keeping busy

About a sudden death

When someone dies suddenly from an accident, violent crime, suicide, short illness, or heart attack we have no time to say goodbye and we are left with many unanswered questions.

In the beginning, you may feel like the death is not real. Shock and disbelief are very normal with a sudden loss. Anger and guilt are common also.

When the initial shock begins to wear off, you may find you have deeper reactions, up to months after the death. This is very normal. You’re under a lot of stress when you are grieving and need to take excellent care of yourself.

Helping yourself

You are not crazy… you are grieving!

The main thing to remember in dealing with grief is to know that your reactions are important and normal. Many people feel they are going crazy when the emotions come flooding over them.

Talking with someone who you trust can help you understand some of your thoughts and behaviors. Allow yourself to reminisce about the person. Take extra care of your body during this time: eat right, get plenty of rest, exercise, etc. Read about grief and ways to cope. Prayer or quiet time can help. Sometimes you may find it helpful to take time by yourself. Other times you may feel a need to talk with others who are feeling the pain. The worst thing we can do is to pretend things are the same. Nothing is the same. We can all help each other adjust and cope with the many reactions we will all have.

The key to handling loss is to understand that we can feel our grief and live our life all at the same time. Hope means different things to different people. We have hope in our spirituality, other people, our families, ourselves and in life in general. Remembering people who are no longer living does not mean we have given up hope. It is necessary for us to face our losses. Grief is a very important part of life that no one teaches us about. Learning from our grief often helps us learn about life.

More information

If you would like more written information on grief or would like to talk to someone about your own grief experience, there are a variety of community resources available.

On campus

  • EMU Counseling Services or the office of faith and spiritual life at x4317 (or 540-432-4317)
  • The RD on call
  • Your faculty advisor
  • Your coach

Off campus in our local community

  • Your pastor or spiritual mentor
  • Your company’s Employee Assistance Program resources (EAP)
  • RMH Grief and Loss Services at 540-433-4427
  • And many professional counselors and support systems in our area (listed in this directory of services)
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