How To Deal With Grief After Losing Someone You Love

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated June 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

We don’t always know how to respond when a loved one passes away. Losing someone you care about can cause complex emotions you may struggle to process. If you’re grieving the death of a loved one, it can help to know what to expect and how you can address your feelings. Though grief can look different for everyone, its common stages can be navigated in a healthy way with the right approach. Below, we’re going to cover the ins and outs of dealing with grief after losing a loved one.

You deserve support as you process the loss of a loved one

What is grief?

Grief refers to an individual’s feelings, behaviors, and thoughts as they cope with death. For example, someone who is grieving may experience sadness, isolate themselves from others, and believe that they could have done more to prevent the death of their loved one. Numerous factors will determine how an individual responds to the loss of someone close to them.

Grief generally affects everyone differently. It may last for a few weeks or persist for months or years. Grief that becomes persistent and severe may indicate a mental health condition known as prolonged grief disorder, also known as complicated grief or persistent complex bereavement disorder.

It is estimated that 7-10% of bereaved adults will develop prolonged grief disorder. 

What are the stages of grief?

Over the years, several different theories have been developed in attempts to explain the stages we go through when we experience grief. The most well-known of these models was developed by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who posited that there are five: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While other experts have questioned the validity of this model—and some have added stages—it serves as a useful framework for understanding how grief can progress. 

Denial

Denial occurs for many upon learning about a loved one’s passing. If you’ve lost a loved one, it may take you some time to adjust to the reality of such a significant change. For example, you may text your best friend who recently passed away, expecting to receive a response.  

Anger

Anger is a common response to the feelings that grief can produce. Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion because it typically follows a different emotion, such as sadness. For example, if you’re experiencing feelings of injustice after a family member died in a car accident, you may express anger toward the other driver or the hospital employees providing care. It is also common to be angry with the person who passed away—and even with oneself. 

Bargaining

Bargaining is another common response to the loss of a loved one. This could include asking a higher power for the individual back or thinking about what could’ve been done to avoid the situation. For example, you may wonder whether your loved one’s death could’ve been prevented if you’d visited them more often. This is often an attempt to exert control over the situation. 

Depression

Depression can refer to either clinical depression or common mental and physical symptoms that are associated with depressive disorders. An individual who is grieving may experience sadness, loneliness, loss of energy, lack of motivation, trouble focusing, and similar challenges. 

Acceptance

Acceptance refers to the acknowledgment that a loved one has passed. While acceptance often signals the completion of the grieving process, this is not always the case. Acceptance is not about forgetting; it's about allowing oneself to move forward in a healthy way. You may still feel sad and miss the person from time to time, but acceptance typically means that you’re adjusting to life without them.

How to cope with the grieving process

Navigating grief can be a challenge, potentially causing us to struggle to move forward with our lives or function normally. Having some tips for addressing your feelings as you grieve can help you take steps toward acceptance. The following are strategies for coping with grief. 

Let yourself feel

Sometimes, we struggle for longer than necessary because we ignore or repress our emotions during the bereavement process. It can be challenging to confront emotions related to grief, particularly for those who haven’t experienced it before. As you navigate the grieving process, try to remain in touch with your emotions so you can work through them in a constructive manner. Suppressing emotions like sadness, anger, or loneliness can cause them to resurface in potentially harmful ways. In the following sections, we’ll discuss different ways you can express these feelings. 

Reach out for support

Grief is one of the more difficult experiences we go through in our lives, but we don't have to go through it alone. Social support can be a crucial aspect of navigating the grieving process healthily. Your friends, family members, and other loved ones can provide comfort and provide an outlet for your feelings. They are likely already aware of your situation and may be more than willing to help you through this tough time. Consider reaching out to them whenever you need support.

Realize it is a natural response

Grief is a natural process that comes with a wide range of emotions. It's typical to feel angry and sad or even to feel numb after the loss of a loved one or upon learning about a terminal illness. These feelings are normal and are part of the typical response to loss. You may want to acknowledge that grief can be a roller coaster with ups and downs and that, during this difficult time, there's nothing wrong with expressing your feelings in various ways. Giving yourself permission to grieve as you navigate through this period can be helpful.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve

Grief is deeply personal, and there's no correct way to experience it. What works for one person might not work for another. You may find meaning in certain rituals, moments of reflection, or simply talking about the person who died, while others might find solace in solitude or doing activities that don't directly relate to their grief. Grief takes time, and it's essential to allow yourself to process what happened at your own pace.

If you would like additional support as you work through grief, consider doing an online search with the query "grief support groups near me" or "grief counseling near me”. A support group can connect you with a network of people who are also grieving, allowing you to talk through your emotions, learn new coping techniques, and feel less lonely. A grief counselor is someone who is specially trained to address bereavement. They may provide emotional support, give you tips for processing your feelings, and help you work through related mental health challenges. 

Keep a journal

Many people find it therapeutic to keep a grief journal. A journal can be an outlet for their emotions and a way to process their feelings surrounding the loss of their loved one. You can use your journal to keep logs of how you are feeling, commemorate memories of the person you lost, or write letters to this person. Research suggests that journaling can help improve recovery from grief and alleviate symptoms of mental health challenges.  

Avoid major changes

Your life may look significantly different after the passing of a loved one, and that often requires a period of adjustment. Major life changes might seem like the right moves to make, but they can be detrimental to your healing process. Comfort and stability are often crucial as you try to process your feelings and move forward.

Many experts recommend giving yourself plenty of time and space to adapt to your new way of living before deciding to substantially alter your life. For example, you may be tempted to move away soon after the death of a loved one, possibly to alleviate feelings of sadness associated with home. In this scenario, working through your feelings before changing your life can help you avoid making a decision you might regret. The period after you've processed your grief may be the best time to re-evaluate whether you'd like to make this change.

Accept that it’s OK to move forward

You deserve support as you process the loss of a loved one

Following the death of a loved one, it may be hard to go about your life in the same manner you once did. You might feel guilty about enjoying yourself or worry about forgetting this person. It's important to remember that you can live a full, rewarding life while also cherishing the memory of your loved one. Consider participating in fun activities, nurturing old relationships, or taking up new hobbies. When you're ready, embracing life in different ways can help you move forward and flourish.

Processing grief with online therapy

It’s possible to find support through therapy, either online or in person. Processing grief with online therapy, for example, can help accompany the journey through loss, providing a space to find support. Establishing a relationship with a therapist can offer new perspectives and coping strategies during difficult times.

Studies show that online therapy can help individuals cope with the loss of a loved one. In a study published in the journal Internet Interventions, researchers examined the efficacy of online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for bereaved individuals, finding that participants experienced significantly lower symptoms of loss and complicated grief, in addition to a decrease in depressive symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a widely used method that focuses on reframing negative thought processes that may be contributing to maladaptive thoughts and behaviors, such as those related to prolonged grief. 

Navigating grief in a healthy way is possible with the right support. Working with a licensed therapist through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can participate in therapy remotely, which can be helpful if you’re not comfortable discussing the loss of a loved one in person. BetterHelp works with a team of therapists with diverse areas of expertise, so you’ll have a good chance of being matched with someone who can address your specific concerns surrounding the grieving process or similar challenges. 

Takeaway

Losing a loved one is a universal experience, but one that can be difficult to cope with and understand. By understanding how grief may manifest itself and what you can do to address it, you can limit its potential negative effects. For further guidance and support, consider connecting with a licensed therapist online. With the help of a mental health professional, you can process grief, cultivate emotional wellness, and continue moving forward in life.
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