The most intense grief experience usually comes from the death of a loved one. Feeling empty and numb is common.
Besides deep feelings of sadness and sorrow, physical symptoms may arise—long- or short-term memory loss or the inability to eat or sleep, for example. Sleeping or eating too much is also common.
Other emotions in the grieving process can be profound sadness, longing for the loved one, guilt or regret, anxiety, fear, ambivalence or helplessness. Strange or disturbing dreams can arise. Absent-mindedness is common. In fact, grief and sorrow can
lead to a sense of “losing one’s mind.” Such feelings and behaviors are normal and will pass.
There is no timetable for the grieving process.
Over time, the intense grief and sorrow subside. As the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization states, the “sweet sadness” that arises when you remember your loved one “is simply the acknowledgment that significant loss has
occurred. That the loss, and the person who is gone, matters and affects our lives.”
Many people are familiar with the five stages of grief introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969. These stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The model was based on Kübler-Ross’s work with terminally
ill patients. Since her initial research, the stages of grief have been used to describe many types of losses. Some people have found the stages to be a helpful way to think about grief; others have not.
Researchers point out that the stages describe grief as a passive process. In the decades since Kübler-Ross’s work, people who work with the bereaved have learned that grief is an active process. Many people find it empowering to know that
they are resilient. They take comfort in actively processing their feelings and memories and creating ways to honor and celebrate their loved one.
Factors affecting grief
Throughout the stages of grief, the nature and intensity of grief reactions and the length of time a person grieves are affected by a variety of factors:
- The nature of the person’s relationship with the deceased (The intensity of grieving over the death of a spouse or parent may be different than the intensity of grieving over the death of a neighbor or peer.)
- The cause of death (The grieving process may differ depending on whether the person died suddenly or was ill for an extended time.)
- The age and gender of the person who is grieving
- The life history of the person who is grieving, including previous experiences with loss
- The personality and coping style of the person who is grieving
- The support available from friends and family, in addition to the family's customs and beliefs surrounding death
- The religious and spiritual beliefs of the person who is grieving