Grief and Loss: The Process of Healing

Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult events you can experience. Understanding grief and learning how to cope can help you heal and move forward with your life as you honor the person you miss.

Q. What is grief?

A. Grief is what you feel when you lose someone or something dear to you. How long you grieve depends on the closeness of the relationship. Whether the death was sudden or expected, the nature of the bond also affects how long you grieve.

When you grieve, you often have intense and enduring feelings of disbelief, shock, despair, sadness, and guilt that can be hard to deal with. Even so, these feelings are a normal part of the healing process. Experiencing them will allow you to move forward.

Q. What can help me heal from grief and loss?

A. Support from others is one of the most important parts in healing. That support can come from:

  • Close friends

  • Grief counselors and social workers

  • Grief support groups

  • Other family members

  • Psychotherapists

  • Your faith community 

Q. What self-care steps or coping skills do I need?

A. It’s important to take care of yourself. You should try to do the following:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Consider eating with close family or friends if eating is hard.

  • Exercise regularly. To start, even a short walk outside is good.

  • Get enough sleep. Have a regular bedtime and don't use electronic devices the hour before bedtime.

  • Maintain your normal routine as much as possible. You may not be able to do this at first.

Resist the urge to numb the pain with alcohol or drugs. This can delay healing and lead to further problems.

Some people also find creating a meaningful memorial in the person’s honor to be helpful. For example, fund a scholarship program or give a gift to a charity or aid fund in the person’s name.

Finally, be patient with yourself. There's no universal timetable for grief.

Q. What role does mourning play?

A. Mourning is the public side of grief and varies from culture to culture. Regardless of the ritual, mourning provides an accepted way to recognize the death of a loved one. It also helps you say goodbye in a public ceremony that honors the person. It gives family members ongoing support and sympathy.

Q. When should I seek professional help?

A. While grief is similar to depression, clinical depression is a psychological disorder. Grief is a normal response to loss. But long-term, unresolved grief can lead to depression and other complications. 

Contact your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Symptoms of a prolonged grief disorder (PGD). This refers to an individual who, 12 months after the loved one’s death, has intense longing or preoccupation for the dead person. The grieving person may experience significant distress or an inability to perform daily activities at home, work, or other important areas. The grief is disabling. PGD symptoms affect the person’s everyday functioning in a way that typical grieving does not.

  • New or increased use of drugs or alcohol. This can be an attempt to numb and prevent overwhelming feelings of sadness and loss.

  • Trusted friends or family ask you to get help. Listen if people you trust express concern about your on-going grief-related symptoms and ask you to seek professional support.

NOTE: Call 988 if you have thoughts of suicide.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
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