Understanding & Coping With Loss

Grief is a natural reaction to the death of a loved one but most of us are not ready for it. Grief can sometimes be devastating, frightening and often lonely. We may think, do, and say things that are not like us. Grief is not an orderly set of stages. It is different for each person, so only you know what feels right for you.

When a Parent Dies

When your parent dies, you may believe that since you are an adult, you should not experience extreme grief. After all, many people bury a parent every year. By this time of your life you may have had other deaths in your family. You may have experienced loss of friends, co-workers or a child. You might feel that you no longer need parenting and may have even been a caregiver for your parent. Yet the death of a parent can have a surprising and strong impact on you.

The End of an Era

The loss of a parent is the end of an era in your family history. You not only lose your parent, you lose: 

  • An important relationship
  • Your family structure
  • Your ideas of what the future would be
  • The feeling that he or she would always be there for you
  • Your peace of mind

For at least a short time, you may have: 

  • Feelings that you were abandoned or orphaned
  • Thoughts of earlier times that you regret or resent 
  • Changes in family dynamics such as shifting roles or more conflict 
  • Angry, disappointed, frustrated or unfocused thoughts
  • Friction with other who may not grieve with you in or the same way

If You Were a Caregiver

If you were your parent's caregiver, you may feel relief. You may be glad that your parent is no longer suffering and you're free from the burden of care-giving. You might feel guilty about feeling relief. But remember that care-giving is very difficult and exhausting. Fatigue changes grief. In addition, your caregiver role has ended, which can add to the sense of abrupt change.

Caring for Your Surviving Parent 

If you have a surviving parent, you may feel that their grief is more important than yours. The desire to give emotional support may
delay your time of grief. You may be able to put off your grief for a while, but in time you will also grieve. It's important to take care of yourself. Share the duties of caring for your surviving parent if you can, and make time for yourself.

You might find that caring for your surviving parent lessens the pain of loss. You still have an important parent-child relationship. As you and your parent grieve together, each of you may find comfort in a deeper connection. 

New Discoveries 

At the same time you are feeling the loss of your parent, you may gain a new perspective of him or her. As you hear stories from others, look at pictures and sort through their personal items, you may get to know your parent in a new way.

If your other parent is still living, they may give you another view of their lives together. These new stories can enrich your own memories.

You may also hear things that disturb or disappoint you. Memories can be both joyful and painful, but they can also be healing and bring understanding and growth.

A New Future

Part of grief is losing what you thought the future would be like. But as you heal, you will begin to imagine a different future, one that is made up of memories. Those memories will be woven into the next chapter in your life. 

Spirituality and grief

Spirituality encompasses the whole self - mind, body, and spirit. You may have a specific faith, or your spirituality may be based on your beliefs, values, and sense of purpose.

Losing a loved one often creates spiritual distress and pain. Some find stability and comfort in keeping up their spiritual practices. Others may feel cut off from or angry with God. During this time of distress, you can help meet your spiritual needs by sharing your feelings with your Higher Power or with people who are close to you.

You may also want to ask for support from a faith community, clergy person, support group, or counselor.

Expressions of Grief and Love

  • Write your memories and feelings in a journal
  • Meditate or pray
  • Read about grief and healing
  • Plant a tree or shrub in memory of your parent
  • Create a collage, scrapbook, quilt or photo album
  • Write down stories and share them
  • Take part in a grief support group
  • Celebrate special days with an event. Take a day off to remember and reflect
  • Look for and nurture the best aspects of your parent that you see in yourself and others
  • Laugh as you recall funny stories
  • Cry when you feel overwhelmed
  • Give and accept comfort with others

Losing a Partner or Spouse

The death of a life partner or spouse is hard at any age and in any situation. There may be secondary losses including:

  • Change in family structure and what seems familiar.
  • Change in financial status.
  • Change in dreams that were made but not realized
  • Change in security

Losing a Friend

Friends accept, support, and love you. Friends can be a second family or surrogate family. Losing a close friend is extremely hard and may affect others differently.

Common Grief Responses

It is normal for people to have a wide variety of responses to grief. If your symptoms are severe or prevent you from functioning, get help right away from a grief counselor or other professional.


  • Sad, confused
  • Lonely, empty, tired
  • Relief, guilty, yearning
  • Denial, shock
  • Angry, irritable, resentful, frustrated
  • Helpless, numb, hopeless
  • Panic, scared


  • Why did they die?
  • Why me?
  • It’s not real. I’m going crazy.
  • I’ll never get through this and be normal.
  • I should have done more.
  • I wish it had been me.
  • What’s going to happen to me?
  • Am I always going to feel like this?
  • I can’t handle things or concentrate.
  • I wonder what my death will be like?

Spiritual Reactions:

  • Change in belief system
  • Change in values
  • Shift in prayer life
  • Questioning your faith

Physical Symptoms:

  • Headaches or dry mouth
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Lump in your throat
  • Weight or menstrual changes
  • Tingling, shaky or numb
  • Constipation, stomachaches or diarrhea
  • Sweating, tired, or aching
  • Empty arms, especially after the death of an infant
  • Flare-ups of past conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma, or arthritis


  • Irritable, bothered by noise
  • Sleep problems or dreams of deceased
  • Acting out feelings, crying
  • Change in eating habits and appetite
  • Less interest in outside events, work, or social activities
  • Avoiding reminders of loss
  • Hard time concentrating or absentminded
  • Preoccupied with thoughts of the deceased
  • Sensing the presence of the deceased

Tools for Healing

  • Find sources of support.
  • Make time for yourself.
  • Keep your daily habits as best as you can.
  • Accept offers of help.
  • Let yourself cry and talk about your loved one when you need to.
  • Continue to cherish good memories.
  • Give yourself time to process memories.
  • If you have a specific faith or spiritual belief, meet your spiritual needs by sharing your feelings with your Higher Power or ask for support from a faith community, clergy person, support group, or counselor.

If you had a Difficult Relationship

If you had a difficult relationship with the deceased, you may grieve the loss of any resolution.

  • Keep a journal or talk to the person who died as if he or she were still with you.
  • Share your thoughts with a trusted friend or counselor
  • Be gentle with yourself and others.
  • Limit contact with negative people.
  • Tell others what you need.
  • Adjust your expectations.
  • Tell others what you need.

Ways to Express Your Loss

  • Write in a journal or spend quiet time alone.
  • Write poetry, paint, or draw.
  • Plant a tree or shrub in memory of your parent
  • Have rituals that honor your loved one.
  • Pray or meditate.
  • Give yourself time to cry.
  • Read books about grief.
  • Look at photos of your loved one or items that he or she enjoyed. Share stories.
  • Put together a list of meaningful music.
  • Create a memory quilt or scrapbook.
  • Go to a grief support group or grief counselor.
  • Spend time with others who support you.

Additional Support

Seeking additional support may benefit you if:

  • Your grief doesn’t change over time.
  • Your grief interferes with your ability to function.
  • You function as though nothing has changed.
  • Your self-esteem remains at a low level.
  • Guilt and/or anger overwhelm you.
  • You withdraw from others.
  • You think about hurting yourself or someone else.
  • You have lost your will to live.
  • You cope with loss through excessive behaviors such as drinking, spending, gambling, food, or computer addictions.
  • You believe you are depressed.
  • You have developed destructive and/or risk taking behaviors.
  • You have recurring flashbacks or nightmares.

Looking for Support?

Call Grief Support Services at 218-786-4402 for more information regarding counseling and grief support groups for children, teens, and adults.

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