Lessening the heartache of missing a loved one

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated January 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The pain of missing a loved one can be all-consuming, and at times, it may even seem like those feelings will never subside. Whether you have lost a parent, spouse, child, friend, or someone else who was special to you, the heartache of missing someone is often most intense shortly after you've lost them. While you may never stop missing them completely, it can be helpful to recognize that the intensity of your feelings will likely subside and change over time. There are also things you can do that may help ease your pain while you grieve, a few of which we’ll cover in this article. 

Losing a loved one can be overwhelming

Possible stages of grief

Everyone grieves in different ways and along different timelines, so each person’s experience of grief is unique. But, it may still be useful to learn about some of the popular models of grief, such as the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief model. Understanding some of these possible stages of the grieving process may be helpful for some as they navigate loss. 

The five stages are:

  1. Denial: Put simply, in this stage of grief, you might feel a sense of denial such as, "This isn't happening. There must have been a mix-up, a terrible mistake.” In this stage, the loss makes no sense, and we can't bring ourselves to believe that our loved one is gone. Avoidance, confusion, shock, and fear can all be experienced. During this phase, we may feel like we are simply getting by, functioning in survival mode. The denial phase can be a way of trying to soften the blow and help us manage something extremely painful. 

  2. Anger: Anger can be a difficult emotion to come to terms with while grieving, but feelings of anger can be common while grappling with loss. Questions like, "Why me?" and thoughts like, "This isn't fair!" may come up, and you may experience a tendency to blame others, question a higher power if you are religious, or act out. To work through this stage, it can be useful to recognize your anger, address it, and finally, forgive yourself and others.

  3. Bargaining: In this stage, you may try to hold onto the false hope that things could have been different, or that things could change and go back to the way they once were before the loss. Bargaining is often associated with "what if" and "if only" statements. For example, “What if I would have gotten him to the doctor sooner?” or, “If only I had insisted that she not drive late at night." Bargaining often involves placing the blame on ourselves and what we did or didn’t do. 

  1. Depression: This stage can feel like you are pulled into a deep, overwhelming sadness. This stage is often the most understood form of grief, and it may involve feeling hopeless, not wanting to get out of bed, feeling numb, and being filled with sadness. 

  2. Acceptance: Many people who are grieving the loss of a loved one can't imagine getting to this stage. Some people may confuse acceptance with never feeling sad when, in fact, they are two separate things. The acceptance stage involves acknowledging that the loss has occurred, and that this fact can't and won't change. At this point, we accept our new norm and try to move forward into a life that is different but not over.

Not everyone will experience all of these stages, the stages don't necessarily happen in this order, and some of them may occur at the same time. There's also no way to know how long any of the stages might last, as grief looks different for each person. 

Tips for coping with loss

  1. Give yourself time to grieve

It may seem as though the rest of the world is going on with business as usual while you are grieving. As much as possible, try to take the time you need to cope with your loss, and try to be patient with yourself as you navigate the process. For instance, allow yourself to skip events and activities if you don't feel up to going. If you don't feel ready to read sentiments of sympathy from others, put the cards out of sight until you feel ready. If social media seems to stir up more difficult emotions, consider staying off social media platforms for a while. Try to give yourself time to be sad, and allow some time in your day to do the things that bring you joy. If you find that you're isolating yourself due to your sadness, try to reach out to close friends and family whose presence you find comforting. Being around people you love can be helpful, even if some people might not know what to say when someone loses a loved one. For further support, you can also connect with a trained therapist, which we’ll discuss further below. 

Losing a loved one can be overwhelming
  1. Celebrate the person’s life 

When you feel ready, you can think about some special ways to celebrate the life of the person you’ve lost. There are many ways to go about doing this, and you can consider different options depending on your situation and preferences.

For instance, if you’d like to talk through positive memories of the person you’ve lost, you could find a trusted friend who you can talk to and reminisce happy memories with. If you like writing, you could write about your feelings and memories in a journal. You could keep those thoughts to yourself, or you could discuss them with others if you might want to connect with others in a similar situation. Or, if you like photos, you could create a new scrapbook filled with photographs of the person you’ve lost. Many families memorialize their loved ones with a Celebration of Life ceremony rather than a wake or funeral. This type of event may include photos, a video, or a slideshow that depicts the cherished memories of the person's life.

  1. Practice self-care

Another approach to try as you navigate the heartache of missing a loved one is to take care of yourself. For some people, that may feel counterintuitive but try to remember that self-care is not selfish. It can be a crucial part of your health and well-being, which can be very important as you deal with the pain of a difficult loss. 

Embracing self-care can look different for different people, but it can include eating healthy foods, getting lots of rest, exercising, meditating, journaling, listening to uplifting music, and doing things you enjoy. You can paint, spend time with friends, or start a new hobby that brings you peace or joy. 

  1. Seek additional help

Coping with the loss of a loved one can be very difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone. A therapist can help you process the loss and find ways to move forward. You can find a therapist locally or connect with one virtually through an online platform. For some people experiencing intense sadness after loss—such as in the possible “depression stage” of grief—traveling to an in-person therapy appointment may feel exhausting. With online therapy, you can connect with a trained therapist right from the comfort of your home. 

Plus, research has found that online therapy can be effective for a range of concerns, including for bereaved people experiencing complicated grief

Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar concerns:

"Jessica has provided me with a listening ear, encouraging words and tools that has helped me process my grief and loss. I truly appreciate her services and her help during this difficult time in my life.”

“Barbara was an enormous help to me during an extremely difficult time in my life. I signed up for BetterHelp for some grief counseling but ended up learning so much more about myself. Barbara helped me tackle various stages of my grief, listening, and providing excellent articles and other resources that she thought could help me (and they did). I especially appreciated her Christian outlook, as I am strong with my faith and was looking for a therapist who would understand. I’m very grateful for her time and expertise and admire her compassion for others.”


Whether you have lost a parent, spouse, child, friend, or someone else who was special to you, the pain of missing a loved one can feel all-consuming sometimes. Everyone experiences grief in their own way, and there is no single timeline or “right way” to grieve. If you have lost a loved one and are trying to figure out how to cope, you can try some of the tips above, such as celebrating the person’s life, practicing self-care, and seeking additional help through online therapy.
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