During the first few days following a loss, you may feel shock or numbness. In a way, this is how the body helps people through the initial pain. You might also be unable to focus on the simplest task and not be fully aware of what you are doing. During this time, it can seem to others like you are holding up well, but the reality of your loss might still be sinking in. If your loved one had a long-term illness, there could also be a sense of relief that his or her suffering is over. This is normal and you should not feel guilty about it.
In the first few weeks following a loss, you may feel abandoned or forgotten by family and friends who have returned to their old lives. Or if you are still in shock, you might sense that the grieving process isn’t as hard as you feared.
For many people, the shock and numbness wears off at about six to 12 weeks after a loss. Around this time, the reality of the loss begins to set in, and some people report feeling tremendous emotional pain. You also may have trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating. You may feel weak and your appetite may change, leading to significant weight loss or gain. During this period, and for several months after, you may experience a cycle of good and bad days. Grief can come in waves that are triggered by new losses or events that seem small on the surface. If you have had to take on more responsibilities because of the loss, you may go through periods of feeling helpless or incapable.
Eventually, sometimes without even realizing it, you will start adjusting to life without your loved one. You find new routines, new hobbies, and new sources of support. As time goes on, you’ll feel more comfortable with your new life.
There’s no simple cure for grief, but there are steps you can take to feel better.
- Learn about grief. Understanding what you are going through will help you cope. Remember that grieving takes time. Don’t pressure yourself to move on or get over it.
- Express yourself. Let yourself cry and talk about your feelings. Go to a support group or keep a journal where you can write about what you’re going through.
- Don’t feel bad for taking a break from grief. Finding a distraction – a book, a movie, dinner with a friend – doesn’t mean you are forgetting the person who died.
- Let others help you. It’s not a sign of weakness to accept someone’s help. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for what you need
- Find comfort in spirituality: Meditate, pray, or do yoga.
- Develop a continuing bond with the person who died. It’s healthy to have internal “conversations” with the person who died, imagining how your loved one would respond to life’s ups and downs.
- Take care of yourself. Exercise, eat right, keep a regular sleep schedule, avoid alcohol and drugs and see your doctor for regular physical exams.
What if I’m not feeling better?
Feeling sad, moody or “blue” is a normal part of the grieving process. However, some lasting thoughts, feelings and behaviors may be signs of depression. These include continual thoughts of guilt, worthlessness and hopelessness; an inability to perform daily tasks, like preparing food or bathing; crying excessively for long periods of time; eating too much or too little, or experiencing dramatic weight changes; feeling afraid much of the time; or sleeping too much or too little. See your doctor or a counselor if you think you are suffering from depression.
You should also contact your doctor or counselor immediately if you are experiencing any dangerous thoughts or behaviors, including abusing alcohol or prescription medications, over-the-counter or illegal drugs; doing things that put you or others in danger, such as driving recklessly; feeling rage beyond ordinary anger; or having thoughts about death or suicide.