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Grief and Loss

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is grief?

Grief involves feelings of sadness and suffering after the loss of a loved one. It is a normal and healthy emotional response to a loss.

What are the stages of grief?

  • Shock, numbness, and denial: Even if the death of a loved one was expected, it may still come as a shock. Shock may leave you feeling numb emotionally, which may last for hours to days. You may also find it hard to accept that someone close to you has died.
  • Yearning and searching: During this time, you may get angry easily and feel anxious. You may try to hold onto the memories of the person who died. You may feel guilty because of unfinished business at the time of his death. You may not have said all the things you want to say to your loved one. You may feel guilty for being the one who is still alive.
  • Disorganized and despair: You may feel confused, lonely, and depressed. You may feel as though the pain and despair will not go away. There may be times that you separate yourself from your family or friends.
  • Reorganization: As time passes, you may learn to accept the changes in your life. You may finally be able to say goodbye to the person.

What are the signs and symptoms of grief?

The loss and death of a person may cause shock and confusion at first. You may need time to go over and over the events around the death. You may think that mistakes were made, and feel guilty or angry. You may experience any of the following after the death of a loved one:

  • Feeling worthless, hopeless, or helpless
  • Constant tiredness, frequent crying, and difficulty enjoying things or having fun
  • The need to hold onto the person's memories, such as his clothing or other belongings
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Problems eating, such as poor appetite or overeating
  • Sleeping too much or too little

What can I do to cope with the loss?

The pain of the grief process can be difficult. You may feel angry, sad, or confused. Anything that might remind you of the loss can trigger these feelings. Events, anniversaries of special times, birthdays, and holidays may also bring these emotions. The following may help you cope with the death of a loved one:

  • Give yourself plenty of time and rest: Allow yourself time to heal. Grief is not something you can rush. It may take years to heal from your loss. Ask your family, friends, and healthcare providers for help.
  • Share your thoughts and feelings: Try saying what you really feel or share stories of the one who just passed away. Often just talking to someone you trust, or crying when you need to can be a big help.
  • Seek hospice services: Hospice services work with the person during his remaining days, and also help the person's loved ones. Hospice care prepares you for your loss and offers continued help through grief programs after the person's death. Healthcare providers provide support for survivors, and check if grief counseling or psychiatric help are needed. These services give support through sad times after the death.

How will I know if I am unable to cope with the loss?

You may be having a difficult time with the loss of your loved one if:

  • Your sadness and grief continue for a long time.
  • Your grief is delayed or very strong.
  • You hide your true feelings or pretend that everything is okay.
  • You begin to fail in relationships, job, or school.
  • You start behaving recklessly, such as abusing drugs or drinking alcohol heavily.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Cancer Institute
    6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
    Bethesda , MD 20892-8322
    Phone: 1- 800 - 422-6237
    Web Address:

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You cannot eat, drink, or take your medicines.
  • You feel depressed or sad most of the time, or these feelings do not go away.
  • You need to talk about your problems and feelings.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You feel like hurting yourself or someone else.
  • You are anxious or restless even after you take your medicines.
  • You feel that you cannot cope with your condition.
  • You have problems sleeping.
  • You have trouble breathing, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

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