Your Guide to Coping with Grief and Processing Loss

May 11, 2021

processing grief and loss

Your alarm goes off for the fifth time, but you can’t seem to get out of bed. What day is it again? You complete chores around the house on auto-pilot and avoid making plans.

You don’t feel up for anything since your loss.

You may be experiencing grief. When dealing with the death of a loved one, processing loss takes time.

Understanding the why and how behind grief can help you manage the hurdles more easily.

Grief and Bereavement

What is the Difference?

In essence, both include the experience of sadness, pain, or other emotions after a loss. Grief is typically connected with the experience of processing a loss — including the emotional and physical responses resulting from the loss. Bereavement is generally a term used to refer to the period of mourning especially after the loss of a loved one. This process starts at the time of a loss and extends to the point at which a person comes to peace with the situation.

Though grief is much more than feelings of sadness. Grief is often a combination of feelings such as shock, confusion, anxiety, anger, regret, and sadness. Experiencing any of these feelings, physical symptoms, or unexpected behaviors is a common part of the grief journey. This mixture of emotions can change from minute to minute or day to day.


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What Causes Grief?

The loss of a loved one is likely the first thing you think of when you consider causes of grief. But grief can look different depending on the kind of loss you’ve experienced.

The loss of friends or colleagues can spark grief in us, even if we hadn’t talked to them in a while. The loss of a beloved pet can also make us grieve.

And illness can cause anticipatory grief as well. It’s a shock to the system to find out that you or a loved one has an illness, especially if it’s life-limiting. You may become anxious, have trouble sleeping, or become obsessed with the ‘what ifs.’

If your loved one has been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, you may want to consider hospice services. These events may lead to countless life-altering decisions. As a result, you may experience more anxiety as you worry about their health or become troubled at the prospect of losing them.

EverHeart Hospice offers support and care to you and your family every step of the journey. Our hospice interdisciplinary team cares for you and your loved ones with the love and respect we would offer our own families.

Why Do We Grieve?

Understanding why people grieve can help us through our own troubles. It can also make us more empathetic and understanding to those in our lives who are grieving.

Attachment to Others

One of the simple reasons we grieve is because we become attached to others. This includes family, friends, colleagues, and pets. And people with different attachment styles experience grief in different ways.

Coming to Terms with Change

Grief often follows change. But why?

As it turns out, we are wired to prefer habitual living instead of constant variation. This is due to the fact that focused thinking and decision-making take time and energy. The more behaviors, actions, or routines we can “automate,” the less energy our brains must expend on them.

Change throws everything into flux. It requires us to rethink how we live each day. Processing the loss of a loved one is difficult and taxing. So, our bodies resist change to conserve energy.

That’s why change often precedes bereavement. Along with feeling sad at the loss, we have to put more mental and physical energy into what used to be routine.

Myths About Grieving

Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about grief. Below, we’ll tackle seven of the most common. As you read and learn more about these mistaken beliefs, keep in mind that they may be keeping you from healing and happiness. The care team at EverHeart Hospice is trained to help you through the process.

Myth-Grief is a Sign of Weakness

You may feel like expressing grief or feeling sad is a sign of weakness. Often, keeping your emotions from “getting the best of you” is seen as a sign of maturity and strength.

Handling tough situations with a level head by not letting your emotions take over is one thing. But feelings are a part of being human. Reacting to hard situations with an array of emotions is normal and healthy for us as well.

It takes a different kind of strength to be able to process loss without shutting down your feelings. If you’ve experienced a difficult change or a sudden loss, know that your grief is a natural part of the healing process. In fact, the more you work through your feelings (instead of against them), the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Myth-Grief Should Only Last a Certain Amount of Time

Another common myth is that grief should only last a certain amount of time. You may have picked up this idea from a family member, friend, or based it on your own previous experiences.

But the hard thing about grief is that it’s hard to know how long it’ll last. You may expect to be sad for a week and be sad for a month. You may feel better after six months, only to find yourself feeling down again at the one-year mark. There is no pre-ordained “time limit” on the occurrences of normal grief. 

The best thing you can do is be patient with yourself. You might feel frustrated by how long it’s taking to “get over” what happened. But if you’re still grieving, it’s likely that is what your body and mind need to do to properly heal.

Myth-You Should be Able to Keep Doing Your Normal Activities

When you’re in the grip of grief, you may lose your motivation to do things you once loved. This could be small things like chores or errands. Or it could be bigger, like a weekly hobby or going to work.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to keep pushing as you grieve. You may need to take time off from work. Or you may need to ask for help in getting your groceries for the first few weeks.

If you’re frustrated by your lack of motivation, give yourself grace. What you’re going through is not only hard emotionally, but taxing on your body as well.

Myth-You Can Get Through Grief on Your Own

It’s so common to assume that you can deal with hard situations on your own. That’s what it means to be strong and independent, isn’t it?

The truth is, going through tough times by yourself makes them even tougher. Humans are social creatures. When we add isolation and loneliness to our grief, it only compounds the problem.

If you’re suffering from grief, reach out to someone. You may be surprised by how receptive they are to helping you get through it. EverHeart Hospice’s Bereavement Coordinator is available to offer support in many different ways.

Myth-Therapy is Only for People with “Real” Problems

If you’ve suffered any kind of loss that’s causing you to grieve, it’s a “real” problem. And a therapist can help.

Therapy is a place for you to voice your emotions and make sense of your experiences. It’s a place to get everything that’s racing through your mind and troubling you out into the open.

Your therapist will be trained in the art of listening and asking guided questions. They’re not going to judge what you say or make you feel inadequate. Along with the team at EverHeart Hospice, they are there to help guide you through this difficult time.

Myth-Moving on Means You Don’t Care

For some, processing loss takes longer than it does for others. You may feel as though you’ve moved on faster than you should. You may wonder if that means you didn’t care enough about who or what you’ve lost.

Take heart. Eventually, we all have to move on from grief so that we can continue living our lives. Doing so doesn’t mean you don’t care.

Sometimes, if we move on without grieving, we risk burying our grief for the sake of being “okay.” If it’s been a few days or weeks and you haven’t grieved, then take some time to reflect. Ask yourself if you’re avoiding your emotions.

If you have allowed yourself to grieve, know that you may process your loss faster than others. You may need six months to process it, while someone else might need a year or more.

Myth-Crying is the Only Sign of Grief

Another misconception about grief is that you have to cry. But that’s not necessarily true. It’s common to cry when you’re grieving, but it’s also common to feel a host of other emotions instead.

You may feel angry or guilty. You may find yourself needing to take a daily walk on your own to give yourself time to think. Some people simply need to talk about what they’ve lost — others don’t.

What to Expect When You Grieve

Even if you’re not someone who cries, there are other symptoms of grief you can expect.

Emotional Responses

You will likely have some type of emotional response as you’re processing grief and loss. Bouts of crying, sadness, and depression are common. But your grief may present itself as anger as well.

You may wonder why something had to happen the way it did. It may seem unfair, making you feel powerless. These can all lead to frustration and anger.

Shock is another common emotional response to coping with loss. You may find it hard to believe that it even happened. You may have trouble coming to terms with the fact that it did.

You might also feel guilty, thinking or wishing there was something you could have done to prevent the loss. You may experience fear and anxiety surrounding the events. What if the same thing happens to you?

And you might feel a whole mix of these! What you feel as you work through your grief is valid.

Never push your feelings aside or try to work through them on your own. If you ever become overwhelmed by what you’re going through, EverHeart Hospice can walk alongside you during your grief journey.

Physical Responses

It may surprise you to know that you can feel physical reactions to grief as well. The most common is fatigue or exhaustion.

Fatigue goes hand-in-hand with depression for many people. When you’re feeling depressed, you’re likely to have less energy to do the things you love. You may struggle to get out of bed in the morning. You may have a hard time getting to sleep or sleeping through the night, too. This can make you more tired. Overall, grief is a heavy emotion to process. All that emotional work can take its toll, leaving you longing for rest.

You may find yourself reaching for snacks as a comfort, which can cause you to gain weight. Or you may lose your appetite, causing you to lose weight.

Grief can also cause symptoms from stomach aches to chest pains or dry mouth. You may find you get sick more easily when you’re grieving.

Understanding the Stages of Grief

There are a variety of grief models with many variations. There is not a single grief stage theory that can completely encompass how each of us cope with loss since we are all unique. One of the most commonly referenced stages of grief divides the process into five stages introduced by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. It’s important to remember that your process may look different. These stages represent typical stages experienced in grief.

But you may experience them out of order or go through the same stage twice. It varies from individual to individual. The five stages of grief can be a helpful roadmap to understanding how you may feel as you’re processing loss.

  1. Denial

Denial is often cited as the first stage of grief. This is the stage where you question events to the point of denying them entirely. You might be in shock or not capable of wrapping your head around what’s happened.

Denial is a common defense mechanism when we are dealt with hard news. If we don’t want to face the emotions that an event might bring, our minds can choose to deny that it even happened.

Although you may know that a loved one has passed, you may still deny its reality. If you lose a loved one who lives far away, you may still tell yourself you can visit them on your next trip home. Even if you know the person is gone, it may not feel like it yet.

2.  Anger

Anger is considered the second stage of grief. Once the reality of your loss starts sinking in, you might become angry. As we’ve mentioned, anger often coincides with feeling powerless or longing for answers.

Why did this have to happen? Why now? How could you not have expected it?

These are the kinds of things you may mull over and become angry about. If that’s the case, don’t beat yourself up. Anger is a natural part of the grieving process.

3. Bargaining

Bargaining is the third stage of grief. This is where you might find yourself wishing there was a way to change what happened. You could ask for a different outcome in place of life-long good behavior on your part. Or you may wish to switch places with someone who has received a hard diagnosis.

Bargaining is often a representation of the desire for power or control. You want to feel like there’s something you can do to make the situation better. And you want to believe that there are forces of good at work that can change the outcome.

4. Depression

Fourth on the list of stages is depression. This is a stage that you may feel often — even long after you think you’ve finished grieving. Depression is marked by low moods that quite understandably may persist for weeks, months, or years.

You may withdraw from social engagement and prefer to be on your own. It’s normal and natural to feel sad or depressed as you grieve.

5.  Acceptance

Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel is acceptance. This is the final stage of grief because it’s the sign that you’ve come to terms with your loss. You’ve had time to process all your emotions and are in a better place.

Acceptance doesn’t mean you’ll never feel sad again. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten about your lost loved ones or stopped loving them. It means you’ve jumped over the emotional hurdles of the loss and are focused on reflecting on memories.

Ways to Find Support as You Grieve

No matter how you experience grief, it’s important to find support. Even if you’re curious about how to help someone cope with loss, these tips can help you find what you’re looking for.

Talk to Someone

The best way to know how to cope with the loss of a loved one is by talking about your grief. This could be with a friend, family member, or specialist in the bereavement field. Even if the loss is small or not as emotionally taxing, reach out to someone. Don’t go through your grief alone.

Join a Support Group

If you don’t know who to turn to, try joining a support group. Support groups are a great place to meet people who understand what you’re going through. You can open up honestly and receive support as you’re coping with grief. EverHeart Hospice can make those connections for you.

Lean on Your Beliefs

Working through grief may require you to lean on your beliefs. If faith is a part of your life, a higher power, or something else that brings you hope it is a helpful way to process your feelings. Allow yourself to be around people who support and understand your views and beliefs. If appropriate, think about reaching out to a chaplain or spiritual group.

Take Care of Yourself

This tip is crucial. It is so easy to let health and wellness fall to the wayside when we’re experiencing grief. But channel those emotions into an activity you enjoy.

Exercising and eating well will keep your grief from overwhelming you. It’ll give you a break from the thoughts and feelings that are racing through your mind — helping relieve the stress and pain associated with a loss while keeping your immune system strong.

How Can You Help Yourself?

These suggestions are stepping stones for your grief journey:

  • Learn as much as you can about the cycle of grief so that you will allow yourself sufficient time to let your grieving take its natural course. Insist that others allow you this time as well.
  • Listen to your heart and find your own way; another person’s plan may not work for you.
  • Schedule a health checkup for yourself with your physician.
  • Reorganize your life according to what you NOW feel is important. Examine your values and priorities and make your own decisions with confidence. (It is usually recommended that you postpone major decisions for six to twelve months following the loss of your loved one.)
  • Take care of legal and financial matters and, when necessary, revamp plans for your future.
  • Work to overcome boredom and loneliness. Try to break the old 24 hours routine. Make your idle alone-time an enjoyable pursuit with hobbies and interests you love. Give yourself a daily goal to work toward.
  • Do not isolate yourself. Talking with others is a prime outlet for grief. Reach out for a hand to hold to help you get back on your feet. You may be surprised to find how many people will support you.
  • Participate in life; attend a movie, have dinner out, go to a sporting event, travel, go to church, join a group or take a course at school.

Processing Loss

Processing loss is not easy, and it takes time. But with the right support in place, you will get through this difficult time.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a life-limiting illness, you may want to consider speaking with EverHeart Hospice to learn how our compassionate care team can help you through this difficult time.

We offer services to our patients, families, and the community through our Bereavement Program including:

  • Anticipatory grief support
  • One-on-one support
  • Grief support in a group setting
  • Mailings
  • Telephone calls

Our Hospice Program includes bereavement support for families of the patient for 13-months following their death.

We also hold special events for the public, including our grief camp for children, Camp Encourage, as well as our annual A Time of Remembrance holiday ceremony.

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