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What is Grief?

Grief is a normal human reaction to a loss: you may experience it before your own death or before and after the death of a loved one. Grieving is an individual journey and there’s no right or wrong way to mourn a loss. Grief can be overwhelming emotionally, psychologically and physically.  Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said, “…there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.” 

What are the different kinds of grief? 

Anticipatory Grief begins as soon as you accept that you or someone you love is going to die. You begin grieving the coming death and the many losses leading up to it:  loss of a future, loss of independence, loss of functioning, loss of mental abilities, and loss of hope. Anticipatory grief isn’t just about a future death but about all the losses along the way.


Symptoms of anticipatory grief, which are often the same symptoms as that of grief experienced after the death of a loved one, may include:

What are the different kinds of grief? 

Anticipatory grief begins when you hear a diagnosis of a terminal illness and you accept that death is inevitable for yourself or for a loved one. This period can be emotionally exhausting because for an indefinite length of time you live in a state of constant sadness and vigilance. But, during this time, you also begin adjusting to the reality of death and you have a chance to attend to unfinished business and seek a sense of peace.   


Experiencing anticipatory grief doesn’t necessarily lessen the pain you’ll feel when your loved one dies. The period after the actual death is when normal grief typically begins.

Normal or Common Grief comes after you experience a loss. You may have the same symptoms you had with anticipatory grief and you may also experience the following:

  • Being in shock or denial. Feeling numb or like you’re “going through the motions”

  • Feeling sad and crying a lot

  • Telling the story again and again of how they died

  • Not being able to talk about the person or the death

  • Feeling helpless and powerless

  • Having trouble sleeping; being scared to go to sleep; wanting to sleep a lot

  • Having head or stomach aches

  • Feeling guilty: “It was my fault,” “I could have prevented this.”

  • Feeling angry, confused, frustrated, and/or quick to get into a fight

  • Not wanting to stay home alone or feeling afraid to be alone

  • Withdrawing from friends. Not wanting to go out as much.

  • Dreaming about the death, having nightmares about the person and death details

  • Wanting to be with the person who died

  • Finding it difficult to concentrate 

  • Worrying about who’s going to die next

  • Feeling guilty about feeling relieved if the illness surrounding the death was long or painful

  • Feeling upset and anxious that your pain, sadness and grief aren’t going away

When Will My Grief End?

There’s no predicting how long you’ll grieve the loss of your loved one. It may be months. It may be years. 

Up to 85% of all people experience symptoms of normal grief – which tend to come in waves – for months or years after the death of a loved one. As you progress through your grief towards acceptance of your loss, your symptoms lessen. But there’s no timetable. Grief lasts as long as it takes to adjust to life without your loved one.  

How Do I Get Through Each Day?

Kumar offers these recommendations – based on our years of experience working with thousands of people grieving the loss of loved ones – to reassure you on this part of your journey:


  • What you eat does matter - Grieving takes a lot out of you.  Be sure to eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water. 


  • You’re resilient - Yes, grief can be tough.  But you can adjust and work through it.


  • Sleep is important - You might feel like you have so much to do.  You may be overwhelmed.  Take time to rest and recharge.


  • Much of what you experience is indeed normal - Okay, it may not feel like it’s normal to you while you’re grieving but – except for trying to harm yourself or others - there’s a wide span of normal and healthy reactions to loss.


  • Sometimes it’s okay to ignore what you're told - Your friends may offer advice based on their own experiences but your grief is your own and no one else can tell you when to “move on” or “get over it.”  Trust your own inner voice and seek out trusted friends or counselors.


  • Planning ahead helps - Birthdays, holidays and anniversaries may make your loss even more difficult.  Look ahead on the calendar and plan how you’ll deal with these days.


  • Grief doesn’t have a specific time period - You may move through your grief faster than you expected or more slowly than you would like.  Grief takes the time it needs.


  • It’s normal to remember your loved one - There’s no need to feel that you have to cut off all thoughts of the person you lost. You’ll always have an emotional connection to your loved one and someday that may bring you peace and comfort.

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