Common Reactions To Bereavement & Loss

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is no “normal” way to grieve.  There is nothing that you should be experiencing.

There is no timeline for grieving, and how you grieve will depend on a variety of factors, including your history, personality, support system, and the nature of your loss. It can be helpful to be patient and allow your experience to unfold without placing expectations on yourself.

It is possible that you may experience a variety of different reactions:

  • Mental
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Questioning of faith
    • Repeatedly thinking about the loss
    • Thinking you are going “crazy”
    • Seeking meaning
  • Emotional
    • Feeling that you are on an emotional “roller-coaster”
    • Guilt
    • Apathy
    • Irritability
    • Sadness
    • Loneliness
    • Yearning
    • Compassion
  • Physiological
    • Sleep disturbances (insomnia; oversleeping)
    • Loss of appetite/nausea
    • Fatigue
    • Lowered immunity
    • Aches and pains
  • Behavioral
    • Withdrawing from others
    • Seeking support from others
    • Increased/decreased activity

Given that bereavement and loss can be very painful, mental health researchers have studied how people grieve to try to find ways to be helpful and supportive. Early research conducted by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969 introduced the “five stages of grief,” though it has been determined that they are not really stages.

Instead, many people experience only some (or even none) of the following reactions to bereavement and loss, and they can occur in any order:

  • Denial: “This can’t be happening.”
  • Anger: “Who’s fault is this? This isn’t fair.”
  • Bargaining: “I promise I’ll ____ if ___.”
  • Depression: “I feel too sad to do anything”
  • Acceptance: “I am at peace with my loss.”

As mentioned, these are not really stages but just common reactions to loss, and it is not necessary to go through each reaction or any particular reaction in order to adapt and heal. In her last book before her death in 2004, Kübler-Ross said of the five stages of grief…

“They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”