Normal Aspects of the Grief Experience

The process of grief includes responses at emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral and spiritual levels. The following describes some of these. 

Feelings 

Most people who grieve experience at least one (usually more) of the emotions previously mentioned: sadness, anger, disbelief, numbness, relief, guilt, and gradual acceptance. These emotions may come and go, or appear unexpectedly in response to a memory, a song, or something else that reminds you of the person who has died. It may be confusing to experience such a wide range of emotions and/or to feel them with such intensity as you adjust to the loss you have experienced. This is a normal part of the grief experience, and over time you will experience these feelings with less intensity. You will gradually have a better sense of predictability in how and what you are feeling. 

Physical Sensations 

Often after a loved one dies, people describe feeling a “hollowness” in the chest, increased sensitivity to noise or touch, weakness, loss of energy, and a sense of distance. These sensations add to the sense of being overwhelmed during grief. It is important to remember that these, too, are normal experiences, particularly in the early days and weeks after the death of someone you love. 

Thoughts/Cognitions 

People who are grieving may experience many unfamiliar thoughts. A sense of disbelief or confusion, preoccupation with thoughts of the person who has died, disorientation, or even a sense of “presence” of their loved one may be experienced. It is important to be aware of your personal safety during grief, as being “preoccupied” can lead to distractions during driving, crossing the street, walking down stairs, or other aspects of normal life. These feelings will pass. Remember, to move successfully through grief it helps to take an active role in the healing process. 

Behaviors 

It is common to experience changes in sleep or appetite patterns. Some people say they sleep all the time, others cannot sleep at all. Some people can’t eat, others can’t stop. There may also be a sense of social withdrawal, as the energy it takes to interact seems taxing. It is normal to feel disoriented, exhausted, and as if no one else understands what you are going through. Some people have vivid dreams, 
cry constantly or can’t cry at all. Others comment that they think they see their loved one in a crowd, or find themselves reaching for the phone to give them a call. 

Understandably, any combination of the above behaviors can cause the person who is grieving to feel a loss of control and to wonder if life will ever again have stability or meaning. While these experiences may not be normal for your “normal” life, they are normal for the grief experience, and they will pass.

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