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Adult Grief

Immediately After a Death

Basics of Grief

What might I experience when I am grieving?

Although a lengthy list, this is not exhaustive of all grief experiences. You may feel some of these things, or none at all. Our grief experience is as unique as we are and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Common Grief Reactions

Physical (If you have any concerns about your physical health, please seek medical treatment.)

  • Changes in appetite (eating more, eating less, loss of appetite)
  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping more, sleeping less, difficulty sleeping, nightmares)
  • Fatigue/exhaustion/lethargy
  • Physical complaints (e.g. stomach aches, headaches, muscle pain, nausea, indigestion)
  • Sensitivity to sound or light


  • Sadness/sorrow
  • Anxiety
  • Helplessness
  • Irritability/anger
  • Numbness/apathy
  • Guilt
  • Shock/disbelief
  • Jealousy/envy
  • Hopelessness/meaninglessness
  • Loneliness
  • Relief
  • Yearning/pining
  • Vulnerability
  • Lack of interest in once pleasurable things
  • Withdrawal/self-isolation
  • Neediness/clinginess


  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty processing information
  • Disorganization
  • Distractibility
  • Forgetfulness


  • Examining beliefs about the world, people, religion, spirituality, meaning/purpose, suffering
  • Withdrawing from or embracing religious or spiritual beliefs

What are some myths about grief?

What are some things that might be helpful?

When should I get extra support?

When Grief Becomes Debilitating

Generally speaking, the pain of grief becomes less overwhelming with time. There will be times when grief may “flare up” such as holidays, special occasions, specific places or situations. These grief waves are a normal part of grief. Sometimes we can anticipate these flare ups (e.g. the anniversary of the death). Other times, our grief may catch us off-guard (e.g. seeing their favorite snack in the grocery store).

If you feel that your grief experience has been consistently and extensively affecting your ability to function in life (e.g. unable to return to work, not showering for weeks, ongoing inability to think about anything other than the loss, persistent difficulty managing painful emotions, etc.), please seek help from a medical provider or mental health professional.

Grief vs. Clinical Depression

Sometimes, grief may feel or look like clinical depression. Both of these experiences may include:

  • Changes in appetite or sleep habits
  • Fatigue/exhaustion
  • Tearfulness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Death ideation
  • Neglect of hygiene
  • Loss of interest in work or hobbies

At the same time, grief and clinical depression are different in some important ways:

Grief Clinical Depression
Triggers -Reminders of the loved one (e.g. pictures, empty bed) ·
-Reminders of the death (e.g. smell of a hospital room, intersection where accident occurred)
May not be able to identify specific triggers
Frequency of Unpleasant Emotions -Initially may be intense and rather constant
-Decreases in intensity over time and comes in waves or pangs as a result of triggers
Persistent and pervasive
Frequency of Pleasant Emotions -Fluctuating ability to feel pleasure
-Loss of pleasure is related to longing for the loved one (e.g. “What is the point of celebrating the holidays if they won’t be there?”)
Persistent and generalized difficulty or inability to feel pleasure
Self-Esteem -Typically remains the same as before the loss
-May feel periodically helpless -May be affected by guilt/regret related to specific events about the loved one (e.g. should have taken them
to the doctor sooner, should have visited more, etc.)
-Often feel consistently helpless
-Feelings of worthlessness, self-criticism, and self-loathing are common
Sociability -Selective responsiveness to social invitations; may fall anywhere from isolation/withdrawal to very social and this can change from day to day
-Support may be helpful and comforting
-Generally self-isolate and withdraw
-Offers of support may be appreciated but often do not provide relief
Thought Content Often preoccupied with thoughts and memories of the loved one Often self-critical or pessimistic ruminations
Hope -May feel periods of hopelessness related to the loved one’s absence (e.g. “How will I make it without them?”)
-Fluctuating ability to look forward to the future
-Persistent feelings of hopelessness
-Difficulty looking forward to the future
Thoughts of Death/Self-Harm/Suicide If present, this may involve a passive wish that death come soon due to longing to be with the deceased (e.g. desire to be reunited with them in the afterlife) If present, this may involve an active or passive desire to cause one’s own death as a result of not deserving or wanting to live

Specific Losses

Special Considerations

Children and Teen Grief