Dealing With Life and Death: Coping with Grief and Loss

When an individual suffers a loss they can feel distressed, sorrowful or regretful. These feelings are components of grief, the emotion that occurs after a loss. The most common type of loss associated with grief is death, but grief can also be caused by retirement, losing a job or moving to a new home. Every person copes with loss and the subsequent grieving process differently, but not all will be able to do so successfully on their own. In fact, some behaviors could hinder the healing process. An extremely important aspect of the grieving process is recognizing its importance and permitting it to take its course.

Common Reactions to Loss

The grieving process has been broken into five major steps: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While established, there is no guarantee that every individual will experience all of them or in order, and therefore they should only be used as a guide. No two people respond the same way to loss or will have the same emotions within each step. Regardless of when and how these emotions appear, individuals should accept them as they arrive and permit themselves to fully experience each one.

Denial, Numbness and Shock

Upon hearing of a loss, most individuals enter into a state of shock. This type of shock is different than the shock that makes a person immobile and unable to comprehend the world around them, although that too can occur. Shock associated with grief is designed to protect the individual experiencing the loss from experiencing the true intensity of the loss, which just might cause the previously mentioned overwhelming incapacitation. Denial, numbness and shock are normal reactions to news of a loss and not an indication of a lack of feeling. Over time these emotions usually diminish.


Typically, the denial of the loss eventually evolves into bargaining. This bargaining aims at reversing the loss or analyzing what could have been done to prevent the loss. When bargaining many individuals may imagine impractical possibilities or solutions to the loss. If the bargaining process is allowed too much leeway or becomes extremely intense it could actually hinder the grieving process. This is because the mind, and therefore the individual, could become preoccupied with how the loss could have been prevented and become unable to move forward in the grieving process.


Once reality settles over an individual, he or she can begin to feel depressed. The symptoms of depression over a loss are similar to those found in other types of depression: loss of sleep or appetite, crying, a feeling of emptiness and a lack of attention or energy. Sometimes these symptoms could become severe enough to warrant the individual seeking psychiatric help. These feeling usually begin to lessen after a period of time.


After the previous emotions run their course, many individuals will become angry about their loss. This anger can be due to feelings of powerlessness, abandonment and resentment about having been subjected to the loss. Religious persons may feel resentful towards a higher power. These feelings are extremely natural and can indicate that the mind has fully recognized the loss.


Healing from a loss occurs when an individual can accept and make peace about it. The time in which this will happen depends on the individual, the type of loss and whether anything has impeded the grieving process. Accepting a loss does not mean that the grief and its accompanying sadness has ended. Many individuals continue to feel sad about their loss well after accepting it. Acceptance, therefore, indicates that an individual has recognized and come to terms with the loss happening.

Factors That Can Hinder Healing

Many factors can actually hinder the healing that the grief process is intended to provide. Avoidance of the loss, such as refusing to discuss the loss, over-working and minimizing or denying emotions, are common impediments to healing. Alcohol and drug use can also be a hindrance because they impede the mind and body’s normal reactions. Letting the emotions of grief settle and evolve can allow a person to completely recover from the loss.

Help Resolving Grief

Support groups and therapy can assist individuals that are unable to process their emotions or who would like to be with others experiencing the same feelings. Therapy will provide individualized assistance. Support groups are often free and can be attended on an individual’s own schedule and can help a person process their own feelings and not feel so alone. Groups can be focused on a general loss or those with a very specific type of loss, such as a relative’s death by suicide.

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