Bereavement and Loss

The death of a loved one can be the most stressful event in a person’s life. A wide array of emotions can be experienced, such as sadness, anger, anxiety, guilt, and despair. Changes in sleep patterns and appetite can occur, as well as physical illness. These are all normal parts of grieving and the feelings can ebb and flow over time.

There is no "right way" and "wrong way" to grieve. Each person experiences grief in his or her own way, partly based on religious, cultural, social, and personal beliefs and partly because of the relationship with the person who died.

Bereavement has four basic phases which typically occur:

  • Numbness and shock—usually occurs in the beginning and lasts a brief period. It is useful in helping people function through the initially funeral time period.
  • Feeling of separation—when the feeling of loss or missing the loved one starts to occur.
  • Disorganization—time period when the bereaved is easily distracted and might have difficulty concentrating or may feel restless.
  • Reorganization—toward the end of the bereavement period when the person has begun to adjust to life without the loved one.

It is very important to seek out people who understand your loss. It may be friends, family, therapists, clergy, or support groups. It takes a long time to complete the grieving process, so you need to be patient to allow yourself the chance to grieve.

 How can I help myself?

  • Keep a journal—sometimes it is helpful to write down thoughts and feelings.
  • Read books on loss—for some, reading about someone else’s experiences with loss can be very helpful.
  • Start with an activity which was relaxing—this can help in the beginning to get back to a normal cycle, and it can provide some stability and familiarity.
  • Talk about the person who died, if you want to—even though it may be painful, talking about particular memories can be healing.
  • If helpful, go to a support group—many people find groups to be a helpful place to talk about their grief.

When should you seek help?

  • If grief is lasting over a year.
  • If there is a major change in weight (either loss or gain).
  • If suicidal thoughts are occurring.
  • If there are continual difficulties with sleeping.
  • If there is prolonged emotional distress.

Stay connected to your health care providers. You need to remember to take care of yourself. You need to contact them right away if you feel like you are very depressed and not getting better or if you are thinking about harming yourself.

What type of help is available?

  1. Support groups for grieving individuals. Bereavement support groups provide a place to talk about grief, fears, and other feelings which can be there after the death of a loved one. Groups also help people learn from the experiences of others and are very beneficial for children and teenagers. If desired, contact your local hospice or hospital for information about a support group in your area.

  2. Family therapy. "Family" means many things people to many people. It can be people related to you or other people who are very significant in your life. The experience of a loss touches everyone in your family. Family therapists are specially trained to understand the impact of loss on a family and can assist you through your bereavement process.

  3. Books and journals. There are a wide variety of books available for people experiencing loss. Many people who are bereaved find these types of books to be helpful, especially those written by individuals who have experienced a similar loss themselves. Some of the books are mentioned in this brochure; check bookstores for other selections.

  4. Organizations for the bereaved. There are many wonderful organizations started by people who have experienced a loss and who have wanted to help others. Some of them focus on a particular type of death, such as drunk driving. A few of them are listed below:

Bereaved Parents of the U.S.A.
P.O. Box 95
Park Forest, IL 60466
National support group for parents, grandparents and siblings.

Compassionate Friends
P.O. Box 3696
Oak Brook, IL 60522
Largest self-help organization for bereaved parents. More than 650 local chapters in U.S.and Canada. National and regional conferences.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
669 Airport Freeway, Suite 310
Hurst, TX 76053
Victim help line: 800-438-MADD
MADD has over 500 local chapters and offers victim support groups for bereaved. National and regional conferences.

The National Hospice Organization
1901 N. Moore Street, Suite 901
Arlington, VA 22209
Offers support for the dying and for families before and after death.

The Widowed Persons Service
601 "E" Street NW
Washington, DC 20048
Support through outreach programs, referrals, financial and legal counseling services.

Remember, you have a lifetime of memories with your loved one. The process of bereavement will not happen quickly. Allow yourself the time to grieve your loss and to create a special place in your heart and mind for your memories.

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