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Coping With Death, Grief & Loss

Death's volatility can be traumatic for survivors. Impairments can worsen without therapy and medication needed to help control despair, depression, anxiety, and real anguish.


What is Grief?

Grief occurs in response to the loss of someone or something. The loss may involve a loved one, a job, or possibly a role (student entering the workplace or employee entering retirement).

Anyone can experience grief and loss. It can be sudden or expected; however, individuals are unique in how they experience this event. Grief, itself, is a normal and natural response to loss. Individuals respond to loss in many of ways. Some with healthy coping mechanisms, and some in unhealthy ways that hinder the grieving process. It is important to realize that acknowledging the grief promotes the healing process, which takes time and support to facilitate, allowing an opportunity to mourn this loss.


Common Reactions to Loss:
Individuals experiencing grief from a loss may choose a variety of ways of expressing it. No two people will respond to the same loss in the same way. It is important to note that phases of grief exist; however, they do not depict a specific way to respond to loss. Rather, stages of grief reflect a variety of reactions that may surface as an individual makes sense of how this loss affects them. Experiencing and accepting all feelings remains an important part of the healing process.


Denial, disbelief, numbness, and shock

    • Protects one from experiencing the intensity of the loss.
    • Numbness is a reaction to an immediate loss, not lack of caring.
    • Requires working-out loss related impacts and feelings.


    • Ruminating about how the loss could have been prevented.
    • A focus on how things could have been and what will not be.
    • This reaction can provide insight into the impact of the loss.
    • Unresolved, intense remorse/guilt may hinder the healing.


    • Recognizing the extent of the loss, depressive symptoms may be overwhelming.
    • Sleep and appetite disturbance, low energy, poor concentration, and crying spells.
    • Feeling alone, empty, isolated, and self-pity can be depression.
    • Some need this phase in order to begin life reorganization.


    • Due to feeling helpless, powerless, and/or abandoned.
    • Resentment may occur toward a higher power or life in general for the “injustice.”
    • After an individual acknowledges anger, guilt may surface due to negative feelings.
    • These are common reactions; however, therapy and a medication evaluation may reduce undue impairments.


    • The individual needs time to resolve a range of feelings.
    • The grieving process supports the individual.
    • Heals as loss integrates into individual’s set of life experiences.
    • One may return to the earlier feelings at any time.
    • There is no time limit to the grieving process.
    • Each individual should define one’s own healing process.

Factors that may hinder the healing process:

    • Avoidance or minimization of one’s emotions.
    • Use of alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.
    • Use of work (over-function at workplace) to avoid feelings.

Guidelines that may help resolve grief

    • Allow time to experience thoughts and feelings openly.
    • Acknowledge and accept all feelings, both positive and negative.
    • Use a journal to document the healing process.
    • Confide in a trusted individual; tell the story of the loss.
    • Express feelings openly and crying may offer a release.
    • Identify any unfinished business and try to come to a resolution.
    • Bereavement groups provide an opportunity to share grief with others who have experienced similar loss.
    • If the healing process becomes overwhelming, dangerous or unstable, seek professional help and DO NOT DELAY.

A note on Bereavement: Mourning after the death of someone close, clinically diagnosed as Bereavement, actually takes a full year because you have to live through a full cycle of holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays--and ultimately the anniversary of the death itself--without the loved one. The process of bereavement can also have many symptoms in common with a Major Depressive Episode, such as feelings of sadness, along with insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss or gain. The diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder generally would not be given to a grieving individual unless these symptoms are still present 2 months after the loss.



Contact Rainier Professional Psychiatry