Response to Loss

Starting in childhood, many people have been taught to face life’s crisis with a “stiff upper lip,” to “bear up and be strong.” As we are influenced by these subconscious messages, we become fearful that any show of emotion (particularly tears) might be interpreted by others as a sign of weakness (i.e. “he’s falling apart” or “she’s going to pieces”).

One of the tragedies in our society today is that many bereaved family members and friends experience their grief alone, feeling “There must be something wrong with me, certainly no one I know of has ever felt or behaved in strange ways.” Fearful of embarrassment or of appearing “crazy” to others, many bereaved persons hide their true feelings of grief.

It is important for you to realize that what you are experiencing is a normal, natural, and expected response to the loss of a significant person in your life. Your grief reaction may manifest itself in any one or more of the following ways, described by other bereaved persons.

Possible Physical Reactions:

Weakness, pounding/ heavy feeling in the chest, and shortness of breath.

“I feel sick to my stomach. I just can’t eat!”
“I have trouble getting to sleep and after I finally do, I only sleep for a few hours before I’m up again.”

Possible Mental Manifestations:

Lack of initiative, forgetfulness, tension, and anxiety.

“I can’t seem to get organized. I’m up and down a hundred times during the day going here and there, never accomplishing anything.”
“I keep thinking about how it all happened, over and over again in my mind. I guess I’m trying to make sense of it.”
“I think I am losing my mind. I can’t concentrate on anything; I can’t even decide what to wear today.”
“Yesterday, I heard my loved one call for me in the night and today, I thought I saw him rocking in his chair.

Possible Emotional Reactions:

Feeling of relief, anguish, depression, unexpected and uncontrolled crying.

“If only I could have told him/her one more time, I love you.”
“He should have gone to the doctor months ago.”
“The nights and weekends are worse for me, empty and lonely.”
“It’s as if anytime now he’ll call or come walking through the door. I keep thinking of things to tell him.”

Possible Social Reactions:

Tendency to respond to others with anger or irritability. Loss of spontaneity.

“I thought this would bring us closer together, instead we bicker constantly. When I’m feeling up, he’s depressed, and when he’s up, I’m down.”

Possible Spiritual Reactions:

Anger with God, doubts about the reality of God’s existence.

“If my faith were stronger, I would be able to handle this.”
“If I really believed, this wouldn’t have happened.”

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