How may we React when we Experience Loss

These are ways that people react to death, grief and loss. You may or may not have the natural reactions listed here. If a grief and loss you are having is frightening or doesn’t slowly go away, you probably should talk to someone about it.

This document has general information about how one may react to losing someone. Read the materials and have a conversation with your child. Talk to them, listen to them, and be open for an honest discussion about death. Be close and supportive, even if they seem to be ok. Information and talking them through it, is the best “medicine”. Discuss the stages of grief and that everyone may experience them in a different order and they may even skip some of the stages. Those that did not know the person who died may have little reaction or may feel guilty for not being sad – all normal. It is also normal for some to not want to talk about death; don’t force yourself on your child. The thing is to let them know that most everything is a “normal” reaction, things will get better with time and that you are there for them.

Where there is a loss, you can have a physical, emotional, psychological social and/or spiritual reaction to the loss.

Physical Grief and Loss Reactions

  • Pain in the neck, head, jaw, back, chest, around the heart.
  • Pounding or racing heartbeat.
  • Muscle stiffness, soreness, weakness.
  • Feeling dizzy or fainting.
  • Feeling like you are choking or having difficulty breathing.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Changes in sleep patterns – can’t get to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night, sleeping all the time.
  • Feeling jumpy and sensitive to sudden, loud noises, crowds, or other people.
  • Being absent-minded or accident-prone.
  • Feeling restless, unable to sit still.
  • Low energy, exhaustion.
  • Hair loss or change of hair color.

Emotional Grief and Loss Reactions

  • Disbelief and shock that death occurred.
  • Crying – sobbing or unexpected, sudden outbursts of crying.
  • Frequent sighing.
  • Relief that the person’s suffering is over or that a bad relationship is over.
  • Anger at the medical system, higher power, the person who died, yourself, or whoever/whatever was responsible for death.
  • Irritability.
  • Nightmares or dreams about the death or person who died.
  • Withdrawal, being uncommunicative.
  • Talking a lot, rambling, confused, repeating conversations or stories.
  • Anxiety, panic.
  • Fear.
  • Sadness or despair.
  • Envy of other families or of the one who died.
  • Shame – in suicide, death from AIDS or anorexia or as a result of criminal activity.

Psychological Grief and Loss Reactions

  • Guilt for not preventing the death, even if this was not possible; for things said or done in the past you wish you could take back; for things to do or wish you had said and never did; for surviving.
  • Irrational thoughts about joining the dead person or about death.
  • Bargaining – “I’ll never do ________ again if they just come back.”
  • Visual images or thoughts that are experienced repeatedly.
  • Think you are loosing your mind.
  • Can’t concentrate.
  • Memory and time are distorted.
  • Self-absorbed – no energy or interest in others.
  • Loss of confidence and security.
  • Increased sensitivity to appreciation or criticism from others.
  • Unable to cope with people’s jokes, laughter’s, complaints.
  • Problems making decisions.
  • Depression.
  • Desire to die – to join loved one or escape from pain (different form suicidal thoughts)
  • Afraid you have a serious illness.
  • Not permitting yourself to experience the emotions – “I’m okay.”

Social Grief and Loss Reactions

  • Loneliness.
  • Isolation – “I’m the only one who has ever felt like this. “Nobody understands.”
  • Changes in relationships

Spiritual Grief and Loss Reactions

  • Loss of faith, questioning previous beliefs.
  • Openness to the spiritual world.
  • Interest in other faith traditions.
  • Feelings of connection or communication with the person who died.
  • Asking, “Why?” “Why them?” “Why me?”.
  • Asking. “What is the meaning of life?” “What is the meaning of my life without them?”
  • Asking “Where are they now?” “Is there a Heaven?”
  • Discovery of faith or spiritual understanding.

Related: Preparing Children for the Funeral, How to Cope with Loss

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