Grief

Grief is a mix of emotions such as denial, anger, guilt, blame, sadness, frustration, fear and anxiety that occurs whenever we experience a loss or are even anticipating a loss.

Grief is the process of experiencing all of the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual responses to losing someone or to the perception of loss.

The teen years are an especially difficult time to deal with loss. Teens can feel very conflicted as they are torn between being independent, not wanting to show their emotions, or are trying to be extra strong for the people they care about. Their feelings may be very intense at times which feels even more overwhelming.

Reviewed by: KidsHealth Medical Experts

What Is Grief?

Grief is the reaction we have in response to a death or loss. Grief can affect our body, mind, emotions, and spirit.

People might notice or show grief in several ways:

  • Physical reactions: These might be things like changes in appetite or sleep, an upset stomach, tight chest, crying, tense muscles, trouble relaxing, low energy, restlessness, or trouble concentrating.

  • Frequent thoughts: These may be happy memories of the person who died, worries or regrets, or thoughts of what life will be like without the person.

  • Strong emotions: For example, sadness, anger, guilt, despair, relief, love, or hope.

  • Spiritual reactions: This might mean finding strength in faith, questioning religious beliefs, or discovering spiritual meaning and connections.

When people have these reactions and emotions, we say they're grieving.

The Grieving Process

Grief is a reaction to loss, but it's also the name we give to the process of coping with the loss of someone who has died. Grief is a healthy process of feeling comforted, coming to terms with a loss, and finding ways to adapt.

Getting over grief doesn't mean forgetting about a person who has died. Healthy grief is about finding ways to remember loved ones and adjust to life without them present.

People often experience grief reactions in "waves" that come and go. Often, grief is most intense soon after someone has died. But some people don't feel their grief right away. They may feel numbness, shock, or disbelief. It can take time for the reality to sink in that the person is gone.

Grief Rituals

Rituals, like memorial services and funerals, allow friends and family to get together to support and comfort the people most affected by the loss. These activities can help people get through the first days after a death and honor the person who died.

People might spend time together talking and sharing memories about their loved one. This may continue for days or weeks following the loss as friends and family bring food, send cards, or stop by to visit.

Many times, people show their emotions during this time, like crying. But sometimes people can be so shocked or overwhelmed by the death that they don't show any emotion right away — even though the loss is very hard. People might smile and talk with others at a funeral as if nothing happened, but they're still sad. Being among other mourners can be a comfort, reminding us that some things will stay the same.

When the rituals end, some people might think they should be over their grief. But often the grief process is just beginning. People may go back to their normal activities but find it hard to put their heart into everyday things. Although they may not talk about their loss as much, the grieving process continues.

Feeling Better

If someone you know has died, it's natural to keep having feelings and questions for a while. It's also natural to begin to feel a bit better. A lot depends on how a loss affects your life.

It's OK to feel grief for days, weeks, or even longer. How intensely you feel grief can be related to things like whether the loss was sudden or expected, or how close you felt to the person who died. Every person and situation is different.

Feeling better usually happens gradually. At times, it might feel like you'll never recover. The grieving process takes time, and grief can be more intense at some times than others.

As time goes on, reminders of the person who has died can intensify feelings of grief. At other times, it might feel as if grief is in the background of your normal activities, and not on your mind all the time.

As you do things you enjoy and spend time with people you feel good around, you can help yourself feel better. Grief has its own pace. Every situation is different. How much grief you feel or how long it lasts isn't a measure of how important the person was to you.

Helping Yourself

If you're grieving, it can help to express your feelings and get support, take care of yourself, and find meaning in the experience.

Express Feelings and Find Support

Take a moment to notice how you've been feeling and reacting. Try to put it into words. Write about what you're feeling and the ways you're reacting to grief. Notice how it feels to think about and write about your experience.

Think of someone you can share your feelings with, someone who will listen and understand. Find time to talk to that person about what you're going through and how the loss is affecting you. Notice how you feel after sharing and talking.

We can learn a lot from the people in our lives. Even when you don't feel like talking, it can help just to be with others who also loved the person who died. When family and friends get together, it helps people feel less isolated in the first days and weeks of their grief. Being with others helps you, and your presence — and words — can support them, too.

Find Meaning

We can learn from loss and difficult experiences. Think about what you've discovered about yourself, about others, or about life as a result of going through this loss. To help get started, you can try writing down answers to these questions:

  • What did the person mean to you?

  • What did you learn from him or her?

  • What good has come from this difficult experience?

  • What have you learned about yourself, other people, or life?

  • Are there things you appreciate more?

  • Who are the people who have been there for you? Were they the people you expected? What have you learned about them?

  • In what ways have you grown or matured based on this experience?

Take Care of Yourself

The loss of someone close to you can be stressful. Take care of yourself in small but important ways:

  • Sleep. Sleep is healing for both body and mind, but grief can disrupt sleep patterns. Focus on building healthy sleep habits, like going to bed at the same time each night or establishing bedtime routines like doing gentle yoga or breathing exercises.

  • Exercise. Exercise can help your mood. It may be hard to get motivated when you're grieving, so modify your usual routine if you need to. Even a gentle walk outdoors can help to reset your perspective on things.

  • Eat right. You may feel like skipping meals or you may not feel hungry. Your body still needs nutritious foods, though. Avoid overeating, loading up on junk foods, or using alcohol to "soothe" your grief.

Grief is a normal emotion. It can help to know that you will always remember the person you lost, but you can feel better with time.

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

Fred Rogers

“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

―Anne Lamott

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them." ~ Leo Tolstoy

There is something you must always remember. you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. ~ Winnie the Pooh

“When your fear touches someone’s pain, it becomes pity, when your love touches someone’s pain, it become compassion.”

― Stephen Levine

“If I can see pain in your eyes then share with me your tears. If I can see joy in your eyes then share with me your smile.”

― Santosh Kalwar

“And we wept that one so lovely should have a life so brief.”

William Cullen Bryant

“There is an hour, a minute - you will remember it forever - when you know instinctively on the basis of the most inconsequential evidence, that something is wrong. You don't know - can't know - that it is the first of a series of "wrongful" events that will culminate in the utter devastation of your life as you have known it.”

Joyce Carol Oates, A Widow's Story

“When a friend of Abigail and John Adams was killed at Bunker Hill, Abigail's response was to write a letter to her husband and include these words, "My bursting heart must find vent at my pen.”

David McCullough

“A feeling of pleasure or solace can be so hard to find when you are in the depths of your grief. Sometimes it's the little things that help get you through the day. You may think your comforts sound ridiculous to others, but there is nothing ridiculous about finding one little thing to help you feel good in the midst of pain and sorrow!”

Elizabeth Berrien, Creative Grieving: A Hip Chick's Path from Loss to Hope

Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

― Fred Rogers

“Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

"The reality is that we don't forget, move on, and have closure, but rather we honor, we remember, and incorporate our deceased children and siblings into our lives in a new way. In fact, keeping memories of your loved one alive in your mind and heart is an important part of your healing journey." ~ Harriet Schiff, author of The Bereaved Parent

We can endure much more than we think we can; all human experience testifies to that. All we need to do is learn not to be afraid of pain. Grit your teeth and let it hurt. Don't deny it, don't be overwhelmed by it. It will not last forever. One day, the pain will be gone and you will still be there. - Harold Kushner When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough

What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us. - Helen Keller

When a person is born we rejoice, and when they're married we jubilate, but when they die we try to pretend nothing has happened.- Margaret Mead

No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.- C.S. Lewis

She was no longer wresting with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts. - George Eliot

Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve. - Earl Grollman

Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind." - Henry James

One cannot get through life without pain...What we can do is choose how to use the pain life presents to us. - Bernie S. Siegel

Honest listening is one of the best medicines we can offer the dying and the bereaved. - Jean Cameron (dying of cancer)

You give yourself permission to grieve by recognizing the need for grieving. Grieving is the natural way of working through the loss of a love. Grieving is not weakness nor absence of faith. Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt, sleeping when you are tired or sneezing when your nose itches. It is nature's way of healing a broken heart. - Doug Manning

For some moments in life there are no words. - David Seltzer, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.- Patti Smith

There is no grief like the grief that does not speak. -Henry Wordsworth

We can endure much more than we think we can; all human experience testifies to that. All we need to do is learn not to be afraid of pain. Grit your teeth and let it hurt. Don't deny it, don't be overwhelmed by it. It will not last forever. One day, the pain will be gone and you will still be there. - Harold Kushner When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough

A child can live with anything as long as he or she is told the truth and is allowed to share with loved ones the natural feelings people have when they are suffering.- Eda LeShan

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. -Henri Nouwen

Nothing that grieves us can be called little; by the external laws of proportion a child's loss of a doll and a king's loss of a crown are events of the same size. Mark Twain, Which was the Dream? (1897)

Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion to death.- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"Deposits of unfinished grief reside in more American hearts that I ever imagined. Until these pockets are opened and their contents aired openly, they block unimagined amounts of human growth and potential. They can give rise to bizarre and unexplained behavior which causes untold internal stress." - Robert Kavanaugh

"Grieving is a journey that teaches us how to love in a new way now that our loved one is no longer with us. Consciously remembering those who have died is the key that opens the hearts, that allows us to love them in new ways." - Tom Attig, The Heart of Grief

“Ah. I smiled. I'm not really here to keep you from freaking out. I'm here to be with you while you freak out, or grieve or laugh or suffer or sing. It is a ministry of presence. It is showing up with a loving heart.”

― Kate Braestrup, Here If You Need Me: A True Story

You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces - my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined.

~ Elizabeth Edwards

"He wept, and it felt as if the tears were cleansing him, as if his body needed to empty itself.”

― Lois Lowry

At some of the darkest moments in my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me-some because they cared about me and it hurt them to see me in pain; others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability, and that was more than they could handle. But real friends overcame their discomfort and came to sit with me. If they had not words to make me feel better, they sat in silence (much better than saying, "You'll get over it," or "It's not so bad; others have it worse") and I loved them for it. - Harold Kushner, Living a Life that Matters

"It is very easy to see the allure of alcohol to dull the pain and the temptation to punish myself for something that is not my fault. But he sobering truth is that if I step onto the path of self-destruction, I know I will never come back. " Bill Jenkins, What to Do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss

While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till it be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it. ~ Samuel Johnson

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break. ~ William Shakespeare

Man, when he does not grieve, hardly exists. ~ Antonio Porchia, Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

Even hundredfold grief is divisible by love. ~ Terri Guillemets

Sorrow makes us all children again - destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ~ From the television show The Wonder Years

If you're going through hell, keep going. ~ Winston Churchill

We acquire the strength we have overcome. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Time is a physician that heals every grief. ~ Diphilus

The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out. ~ Lou Reed, "Magic and Loss"

Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow. ~ Dan Rather

You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present. ~ Jan Glidewell

Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal. ~ Author Unknown

There are things that we don't want to happen but have to accept, things we don't want to know but have to learn, and people we can't live without but have to let go. ~ Author Unknown

If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble. ~ Moliere

Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight. ~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing. ~ Robert Ingersoll

Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it. ~ Jacques Prévert

The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep. ~ Henry Maudsley

Every evening I turn my worries over to God. He's going to be up all night anyway. ~ Mary C. Crowley

She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts. ~ George Eliot

While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil. ~ John Taylor

As long as I can I will look at this world for both of us. As long as I can I will laugh with the birds, I will sing with the flowers, I will pray to the stars, for both of us. ~ Sascha,

I measure every grief I meet with narrow, probing eyes - I wonder if it weighs like mine - or has an easier size.”

- Emily Dickinson

"Courage can be just as infectious as fear."

- Alice Miller, For Your Own Good

"Suicide is unspeakable, and to speak it is somehow to bring it into a human, imaginable sphere, even if only in the moment of speaking. The need to tell is both a need to tell oneself and a need to be heard.... Telling and being heard are the first steps toward reconnection." ~ Victoria Alexander, In the Wake of Suicide: Stories of the People Left Behind

"In the face of events that threaten to overwhelm our lives, storytelling gives us a way of reclaiming ourselves and reaffirming our connections with other people--those who listen to our stories and, by doing so, bear witness with us." ~ Victoria Alexander, In the Wake of Suicide: Stories of the People Left Behind

"Courage is being afraid and going on the journey anyhow". -- John Wayne

"You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your armstoo full to embrace the present." -- Jan Glidwell

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey". -- Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933)

"The pain passes, but the beauty remains". --Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

We Remember Them…

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,

We remember them;

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,

We remember them;

In the opening of buds and in the warmth of summer,

We remember them;

In the rustling of leaves and the beauty of autumn,

We remember them;

In the beginning of the year and when it ends,

We remember them;

When we are weary and in need of strength,

We remember them;

When we are lost and sick at heart,

We remember them;

When we have joys we yearn to share,

We remember them;

So long as we live, they too shall live

For they are now a part of us as

We remember them.

from Gates of Prayer,

Judaism Prayerbook


“My sister will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn't go away; it becomes a part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving Bailey because I will never stop loving her. That's just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don't get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy.”

Jandy Nelson, The Sky Is Everywhere

“So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.”

E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

"We can endure much more than we think we can; all human experience testifies to that. All we need to do is learn not to be afraid of pain. Grit your teeth and let it hurt. Don't deny it, don't be overwhelmed by it. It will not last forever. One day, the pain will be gone and you will still be there.

- Harold Kushner When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough

by Jill Williamson | May 25, 2012

By Jill Williamson

I’m currently working on a dystopian novel in which the village my main characters live in was attacked and all of my characters lost loved ones.

I know that this is a big deal, so I’ve been studying grief and how it affects people so that I can accurately portray that in my different characters.

In her book, On Death and Dying, published in 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross proposed that there are five stages in the grieving process that people go through in reaction to the pain of loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And people can grieve all types of things: the death of a loved one or pet, a divorce, the loss of a life dream, coping with a terminal illness, a major break-up, going to prison, and even the withdrawal of addictive substances.

Not everyone grieves in the same way, nor do these stages always come in order. Some people might progress straight through the stages. Some might bounce between them, going from anger to bargaining to depression and back to anger and so on. And some people might skip whole stages and not experience every single stage. And according to Kubler-Ross, women are more likely than men to experience all five stages.

There also isn’t a set time frame for people to heal. Some might go through the stages of grief quickly. Some may never get over it until they die, stuck forever in the denial stage.

The stages, commonly known by the acronym DABDA, are:

1. DENIAL- Numb with disbelief, your character might deny the loss in order to avoid the pain and protect himself from becoming completely overwhelmed. Life is meaningless. Nothing matters anymore. He may become isolated. Or he may go on as if nothing has happened.

Examples: A child grieving a divorce might believe his parents will change their mind and reconcile. A girl whose fiancé left her at the altar might be unable to concede that the relationship is really over. A guy whose father died might expect him home at the same time each day. And an addict might say, “I don’t have a problem. I can stop when I want.”

2. ANGER – As reality sets in and your character accepts the devastation has occurred, he is likely to get angry. He may lash out at everyone. He may look to blame someone: himself, another person, the deceased person, God. He may unintentionally or intentionally hurt people he loves to make himself feel better.

Examples: A child grieving a divorce might pick a parent to hate. A girl whose fiancé left her at the altar might send hate emails or phone calls, demanding to know why. A guy whose father died might accuse his mother of killing his dad, then feel guilty for saying such a thing and hate himself. And an addict might be angry they have this problem and look to blame someone who got them started.

3. BARGAINING – A million “if onlys” and “what ifs” will start running through your character’s head. He will want to go back in time and rewrite history. “If only I had been there. If only I hadn’t gone to that party. What if he would have stayed home that day? If only I hadn’t complained so much.” He might also try to bargain with God. “If you will bring him back, I’ll be a better son. I’ll dedicate my life to working with the elderly.

Examples: A child grieving a divorce might pitch in more at home in hopes that being perfect will mend what’s wrong. A girl whose fiancé left her at the altar might say, “Can we still be friends?” or “I can change!” A guy whose father died might wish he’d taken his father to a different doctor or done it earlier. And an addict might think, “God, I promise to never use again if you’ll only help me out of this trouble.”

4. DEPRESSION – About the time when most friends and family think your character should be over this already, he’ll be consumed with intense sadness. The magnitude of his loss is overwhelmingly depressing, and he feels as though it will last forever. He may isolate himself. Cry. He may reflect on all the bad times, wishing he could go back and do it differently. He may feel empty. Despair. There is no point in going on. He will not be talked out of his depression. He cannot snap out of it. Encouragement from others doesn’t help. Nothing does.

5. ACCEPTANCE – This stage doesn’t mean your character is all better. He has just learned to accept and deal with the reality of his situation. It is permanent. And he will never be the same again. Sometimes the goal is to have more good days than bad. Happy moments might cause him to cycle back to guilt, thinking, “Why should I get to be happy when he is gone?” But he will learn to adjust his life to this new normal and get on with his life.

Sorry this is a depressing topic! But if you were to write about someone who is grieving a major loss, it’s important to understand these steps.

What do you think would be the most challenging thing in writing about grief?