Grief is a natural human response to loss. It is often thought of as something that will get a little bit better each day, a period of sadness that must be bravely endured until it lessens with time. But the truth is that grief is an “up and down” process that is much more than sadness. When someone important to us dies, it affects every aspect of our being – physical, mental, behavioral, and spiritual as well as emotional. Grief can cause profound changes in all these areas, and can make you feel like something is wrong with you. But in fact, something is right with you: these reactions are normal, natural responses to the loss of a significant person in your life.

Emotional

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Guilt, regret
  • Relief
  • Shock, numbness
  • Yearning
  • Anxiety, insecurity, panic, fear
  • Apathy, lack of motivation
  • Loneliness and sense of social isolation
  • Resentment, envy, feeling cheated
  • Abandonment
  • Helplessness, lack of control
  • Decreased self-confidence
  • Humor

Physical 

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling of emptiness or “butterflies” in the stomach
  • Lump in the throat
  • Tightness in the chest, breathlessness
  • Increased muscle tension, aches, pain
  • Susceptibility to illness or exacerbation of existing health problems
  • Feeling of weakness
  • Palpitations
  • Shaking
  • Dryness of the mouth
  • Over-sensitivity to noise

Mental

  • Confusion, disorientation, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate
  • Vivid imagery of the illness and/or death
  • Need to tell the details of the loss again and again
  • Disbelief, unreality
  • Sense of presence
  • Seeing, smelling, or hearing the person
  • Wishing for death or to join the deceased
  • Thoughts like: “It will never be the same” or “It’s not fair”
  • Dreams of the deceased

Behavioral

  • Sleep and appetite changes
  • Increase in accidents or risky behaviors
  • Searching and calling out, talking to the deceased
  • Crying, screaming
  • Restlessness, sighing
  • Irritability, feeling “on edge”
  • Social withdrawal or increased social activity; changed relationships
  • Changes in work performance
  • Increase or decrease in alcohol or drug use
  • Increase or decrease in self-care

Spiritual

  • Loss of identity, loss of purpose
  • Search for meaning, questioning
  • Redefining personal philosophy and assumptions about life
  • Turning away from or towards existing beliefs
  • Increase or decrease in religious practice: attending worship, prayer, meditation
  • Anger at faith, anger at God
  • Gratitude
  • Peace, resolution
  • Increased meaning, hope
  • New life priorities

We all grieve, but no two people grieve alike. You may experience any combination of these reactions, and your responses can vary greatly from day to day. Letting yourself experience and work through them is part of the difficult but ultimately healing process of grief.

List adapted from Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy by J. William Worden and “Normal Manifestations of Grief” by Gerry Haynes and Kay Kukowski.