What is grief?

Grief occurs in response to the loss of someone or something very dear to us. Grief is a natural response to this loss. Losses that may lead to grief include the death or separation of a loved one, the loss of a job, death or loss of a beloved pet, or any number of other changes in life such as divorce, “empty nest,” or retirement. Anyone can experience grief and loss, but each person is unique in how he or she experiences these feelings. People respond to loss in many ways. Some of these responses are healthy coping mechanisms, while others may hinder the grieving process.

The acknowledgment of grief helps to promote the healing process. Time and support facilitate the grieving process, allowing an opportunity for a person to appropriately mourn a loss.

What are symptoms or causes of grief?

Common reactions to grief or loss

Individuals may react to grief or loss in a variety of ways. The stages of grief reflect a variety of reactions that may surface as an individual tries to make sense of how a loss affects him or her. An important part of the healing process is allowing oneself to experience and accept all feelings that are experienced. The following are the stages of grief:

  • Denial, numbness, and shock—This stage serves to protect the individual from experiencing the intensity of the loss. It may be useful when the grieving person must take action (such as making funeral arrangements). Numbness is a normal reaction to an immediate loss and should not be confused with "lack of caring." As the individual slowly acknowledges the impact of the loss, denial and disbelief will diminish.
  • Bargaining—This stage may involve persistent thoughts about what could have been done to prevent the loss. People can become preoccupied about ways that things could have been better. If this stage is not properly resolved, intense feelings of remorse or guilt may interfere with the healing process.
  • Depression—This stage of grief occurs in some people after they realize the true extent of the loss. Signs of depression may include sleep and appetite disturbances, a lack of energy and concentration, and crying spells. A person may feel loneliness, emptiness, isolation, and self-pity.
  • Anger—This reaction usually occurs when an individual feels helpless and powerless. Anger can stem from a feeling of abandonment through a loved one’s death. An individual may be angry at a higher power or toward life in general.
  • Acceptance—In time, an individual may be able to come to terms with various feelings and accept the fact that the loss has occurred. Healing can begin once the loss becomes integrated into the individual’s set of life experiences.

Remember, throughout a person’s lifetime, he or she may return to some of the earlier stages of grief. There is no time limit to the grieving process. Each individual should define his or her own healing process.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/05/2014.

References

  • Faull C, Caestecker SD, Nicholson A et al. Handbook of Palliative Care. Wiley-Blackwell; 2012.
  • Kübler-Ross E. On Death and Dying. Simon and Schuster; 1997.
  • Runge MS, Greganti MA. Netter's Internal Medicine. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2009.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. How to Deal With Grief Accessed: 3/5/2014

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