Common Reactions to Loss

When a tragic loss occurs, there are many normal reactions you may experience. These might include:

  • Denial, shock, numbness.
  • Fear and anxiety - "How can I go on?" "Can I survive this terrible pain?"
  • Sadness and depression - feelings of loneliness, isolation, hopelessness, self-pity.
  • Sorrow, pain and longing.
  • Anger - "This shouldn’t have happened."
  • Guilt - "I should have been more caring." "I should have told her/him I loved her/him." "My life is going on and hers/his isn't."
  • Confusion and lack of concentration.
  • Grief spasms - intense periods of emotional release, usually with a lot of crying.
  • Search for meaning.
  • Withdrawal from social relationships.
  • Physical symptoms - decreased appetite, energy, motivation; difficulty sleeping; weight loss or gain; lethargy; chest pain, pressure, or discomfort; feeling that something is stuck in your throat, and many other physical sensations. You also may be more vulnerable to physical illness.

When the loss is by suicide, some reactions may be more intense:

  • Shock – you may initially not react and may have difficulty accepting the reality of the suicide.
  • Guilt – you may feel you could have done something differently. “If only I had done (or hadn’t done) this or that, the suicide might not have happened.” This is a common reaction but it is important to keep in mind that there is no single event that would cause someone to kill themselves. There are many things that must come together in order for someone to make this decision.
  • Anger at the person – you may feel angry at the person who killed her/himself. “How could she/he do this to me?” “Why didn’t they try harder?”
  • Search for reasons – you may find yourself continually asking “Why?” and not finding satisfactory answers.
  • Blaming – you may look for someone to blame. “Why did they let this happen?”
  • Anxiety – some people begin worrying about themselves. “If she/he could kill her/himself, maybe I (or my friends) could too.”
  • Questioning spiritual beliefs – “How could God let this happen?”

These are normal reactions and, although painful, are part of the healing process. There's not a lot anyone can do to take away the uncomfortable feelings, but there are things you can do to manage your reactions and make the healing process more bearable. Remember, there is no timeline to the grief process.