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Stages of Grief

The work of grief cannot be hurried. It takes a great deal of time, usually a year or more. It may be the purest pain you have ever known. The death of a loved one is considered the most stressful of all life change situations. What is happening to you is normal
and natural.

The following are stages of grief that are commonly experienced after the loss of a loved one. You may not experience all of these, and you may not experience them in this order. However, it is important to believe that what you are feeling is natural and with time will begin to heal.

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Some people experience shock after a loss, saying things like “I feel numb,” displaying no tears or emotion. Sometimes there is denial. Gradually the bereaved becomes aware of what has happened and the or she is able to express emotions. Other people never go through a prolonged stage of shock. They are able to express their emotions immediately.

Emotional Release

At some point a person begins to feel and to hurt. It is very important not to suppress your feelings, including anger, sadness or fear. Suppressed feelings often surface at a later time in unhealthy ways. Shared feelings are a gift and bring a closeness to all involved.

Preoccupation with the Deceased

Despite efforts to think of other things, a grieving person may find it difficult to shift his or her mind from thoughts about the deceased person. This is not unusual and, with time, will lessen gradually and will not be a problem.

Symptoms of Some Physical and Emotional Distresses

These distresses may come in waves, some lasting 20 minutes or longer. The most common physical distresses are:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Tightness in the throat
  • A choking feeling, with shortness of breath
  • A need for sighing
  • An empty hollow feeling in the stomach
  • Lack of muscular power (e.g. “It’s almost impossible to climb the stairs.” “Everything I lift seems so heavy.”)
  • Digestive symptoms and poor appetite.

Closely associated with the physical distresses may be certain emotional alterations. The most common are:

    • A slight sense of unreality
    • Feelings of emotional distance from people – that no one really cares or understands
    • Sometimes people appear shadowy and very small
    • Sometimes there are feelings of panic, thoughts of self-destruction or the desire to run away; these emotional disturbances can cause many people to feel they are approaching insanity, but these feelings are actually normal.

Hostile Reactions

You may catch yourself responding with a great deal of anger to situations that previously would not have bothered you at all. These feelings can be surprising and very uncomfortable. They often make people feel that they are going insane. Anger may be directed at the doctor, the nurse, God or the minister.

Often, too, there may be feelings of hurt or of hostility toward family members who do not or cannot, provide the emotional support the grieving person may have expected from them. Anger and hostility are normal. Do no suppress your anger. However, it is important that you understand and direct your anger toward that which you are really angry at: the loss of someone you loved.


There is almost always some sense of guilt involved in grief. The bereaved think of the many things they felt they could have done and didn’t. They accuse themselves of negligence. Furthermore, if a person was hostile toward the deceased, there will be guilt. It is important to note that no two people can live together without some sort of hurt being done. This is part of life and does not warrant your guilt. These hurts pop up in grief. Guilt is normal and will pass with time.


Many grieving people feel total despair, unbearable loneliness and hopelessness; nothing seems worthwhile. These feelings may be even more intense for those who live alone or who have little family. These feelings are normal and will also pass with time.


The grieving person often tends to withdraw from social relationships. Life may seem like a bad dream. This is normal and will take some effort to overcome. The rewards are worthwhile.

Re-entering Relationships

After time, effort, airing of feelings and a lot of love, the grieving person readjusts to his or her environment, reestablishes old relationships and begins to form new ones.

Resolution and Readjustments

Resolution comes gradually; the memories are still there, the love is still there and the wound begins to heal. You begin to get on with your life. It’s hard to believe now that you will be better. However, by experiencing deep emotion and accepting it you will grow in warmth, depth, understanding and wisdom.

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