Our own lives are the instruments with which we experiment with truth.
Thich Nhat Hanh

When people lose something or someone important to them, they are bereaved and they may experience a variety of reactions.  These reactions can be so strong or foreign to them that the bereaved may believe they are “going crazy.”  They aren’t going crazy; they are experiencing grief.

The grief reactions we experience when we are bereaved are natural, healthy, and normal reactions to the loss of someone dear to us.  The following are some of the more common grief reactions we might experience:


Emotions Cognitions
Numbness Disbelief
Shock Confusion
Loneliness Preoccupation
Anxiety Feeling Presence of Deceased
Fatigue Hallucinations
Sadness Thoughts of Harming Self or Others
Helplessness Behaviors
Guilt Crying
Anger Searching/Calling Out
Freedom Absentmindedness
Relief Social Withdrawal
  Sleep Problems
  Dreams of the Deceased
Physical Sensations Restlessness
Hollowness in Stomach Change in Appetite
Difficulty in Catching Breath Avoiding Reminders
Overly Sensitive to Noise Treasuring Reminders
Weakness Substance Abuse
Lack of Energy Forgetful

Usually, there are many of these happening simultaneously.  It is almost like a stew bubbling on the stove.  As the stew cooks, various vegetables rise to the top, fall back down and are replaced with others -  the carrots may rise to the top, then they sink and the turnips rise up.  These are then replaced by the potatoes, etc.  Grief reactions can act the same way.  For example, at one point in time, a bereaved person may feel angry.  After a little time anger is replaced with sadness and that is subsequently replaced with guilt, and then anger rises again, etc.  The constantly changing “stew” of emotions, thoughts, sensations, and behaviors can be very unsettling, but not abnormal. Which reactions arise and on what time scale are dependent on a number of factors.

Obviously, there is a lot here. Should everyone who is grieving expect to experience all of these reactions? Thankfully, no. What we experience is unique for each person and for each death. No two losses are the same and the responses are not the same. For example, I had identical twins for clients after their parents died. Each one had her own set and intensity of grief reactions, showing that even identical twins do not react the same way over the same loss.

Finally, I want to stress that grief is hard, tiring work! It is physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual work all happening at the same time! Is it any wonder that people who are experiencing and working through all of this become exhausted and feel overwhelmed, especially when they still have their day-to-day responsibilities and duties?