1. What is grief?
Grief is a response to loss. While many focus on the emotional aspect of grief, it’s worth noting that there are physical, social, and cognitive reactions as well. Grief is sometimes described as “deep distress” after a loss, particularly a death.
2. My loved one hasn’t died yet, but I already feel like I’m grieving.
You might be experiencing “anticipatory grief.” This is the feeling of loss before a death occurs. This often happens when someone you love has a terminal illness, has been taken into hospice or has a disease like Alzheimer's. Your mind is starting to adjust to what is imminent and the feeling of oncoming grief is understandable.
3. When does grief end?
Although this is disappointing, there is no expiration date on grief. Not only does each person grieve for different periods of time; each grief journey itself is also unique. It’s important to remember that there are ebbs and flows to the pain of grieving. You might recover from the initial hurt but then be triggered by something obvious such as a holiday or something unexpected like a song. It’s healthy to have these feelings, in whatever order. Ideally, you will reach the point where you’re able to remember your loved one and smile while thinking about them, even though their loss is still huge.
4. How can I end my grief sooner?
There is no magic formula for stopping grief in its tracks. Grief will run its course. If you feel it would help, you might talk to a professional to help guide you through grieving more productively. There are techniques to help you, and also many great books and online courses to help you better understand and navigate the process.
5. What are the five stages of grief?
The well-known five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These guidelines were developed by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. There are others now who say that there are actually more than five stages and some experts who believe there are as few as two stages.
6. Will I experience each stage?
You might not experience each stage and you also might not go in the exact scripted order. All grief is different. It’s important to understand that these stages aren’t necessarily clearcut and may not be apparent to you while you are going through them. Sometimes you might even regress and go back to a previous stage and need to work through that one again. The key is to be gentle with yourself and understand there is no one best way to go through a grief experience.
7. What’s the difference between grief and mourning?
Many use the words interchangeably, but actually mourning is the outward, physical showing, or expression of grief. Grief is the internal pain that one feels, which can manifest in physical ways in our bodies as well, from weight loss or gain, to trouble sleeping or extreme fatigue and other expressions.
8. My friends are tired of me “complaining.” What should I do?
Unless someone has experienced a loss, it might be difficult for them to truly understand your pain. While they likely want to be supportive, they might not be able to give you the compassion that you need. If possible, it might be helpful to seek out therapy or a bereavement group so you can be surrounded by others who are empathetic.
9. I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not ready to go back to normal. How do I avoid social engagements?
We encourage you to not be embarrassed. You’ve been through a traumatic event and are allowed to grieve. It is a natural process and there is nothing to be ashamed of. While there are obviously plenty of excuses we could list off, our advice is to simply be honest. Tell your friends and family that you appreciate the invite but you’re just not ready yet. Chances are your friends want to help you; if you have their support, maybe you’ll be able to join just for a short period of time. Take your time and don’t be afraid to be real with yourself and others.
10. I’m scared if I go out I will cry in public. This has kept me from leaving my home. What should I do?
Wear sunglasses! While you might think we are joking, we’re not. We’ve been in your shoes, and one team member at Farewelling cried so hard on an NYC subway that she had half of the car trying to help her! The point is, go outside. If you want to hide your tears, try to do so under sunglasses. If you think you will have a huge meltdown, that’s OK too. It’s OK to cry. Tip: Carry tissues with you, just in case.
11. I don’t want my kids to see me cry. What do I do?
This is understandable. Some would say that it’s healthy for children to see you grieve as well, but that’s a personal decision. We know it’s common for parents (and others) to cry in the shower, and that’s OK too. Remember, you need to take care of yourself so as to best help them.
12. How can I help myself through this process?
By just realizing that you need help and asking, you’ve taken the first step. The fact is, there is no script or “cure” for grief. Each person needs to work through their pain in their own way, but there are certainly things that can help. We strongly encourage you to try to get some fresh air and exercise. This can mean anything from simply walking around the block to going on a hike. If you truly cannot motivate yourself, at the very least sit outside, take a few deep breaths, look up at the sky and read a book or a magazine.
Also, try to regulate what you’re consuming. While it’s obviously tempting to allow yourself to indulge in sweets (and maybe even more toxic things) we urge you to nourish your body with healthier alternatives and maybe even some herbal teas or healthy smoothies.
Lastly, try to build in some social interactions. You may not yet be able to meet a friend for an activity, but at the very least, pick up the phone and chat with someone who can listen and maybe even bring a smile to your face. Tip: Smiling is permitted, as is laughter when it happens at whatever point in your journey. Avoid guilting yourself for the small pleasures you may experience. Your loved one wouldn’t want you locked in a state of unending sadness or deprivation.
13. What do I say when people ask how they can help?
Each situation is unique, but if you feel that those asking really do want to help, you might consider thinking of something that they could actually do that would be helpful to you. We advise that you make your request as specific as possible. This could range from asking them to bring you a meal one day, to taking your dog for a walk or simply calling to check up on you. Think about who is asking and what they would be comfortable doing. They will likely be comforted and honored to know they are supporting you.
14. Is my dog grieving too?
Maybe! Animals are intuitive and can feel loss as well. They likely realize someone is missing and they also may feel your pain.
15. All I want to do is eat ice cream and lay on the couch.
Understandable. Can we suggest taking small steps? Literally. Try to start going for one short walk per day. If that’s too much, start by opening your door and standing on your front porch/patio/sidewalk for a few minutes and just breathing. Then try for a stretch and a short walk. Build up the distance or intensity and frequency over time. What we know: fresh air will help you, no matter what. And no, we’re not puritans! Ice cream (and french fries) can be everything when you need them. Just maybe alternate with high-protein yogurt or something else a bit more nourishing to help you actually feel better. Do it when you can. If not, don’t beat yourself up. Take your time and be gentle.
16. I’m scared to clean out my mom’s closet. How do I start?
It’s so hard to start this endeavor. Could you find loved ones who might want special items of hers? Maybe it would help you to know that her possessions are going to be loved again by people who will think of her when they wear them. If you don’t have family or friends to give to, we suggest donating the items to charities, schools, or other worthy local organizations. There are plenty of groups who would be very grateful for your donation. Whatever you do, don’t tackle this type of project alone. Enlist family members or friends to help support you through this important process.
17. I’m sure I will never get over this loss, what do I do?
Take it easy on yourself. It’s not about “getting over” a death, it’s about learning to live with a new normal. It’s ok to think about your loved one -- you likely will for many years to come. Many say it’s a goal simply to be able to recall memories and smile rather than cry. If you are really struggling to go about your days we suggest you either reach out for professional help, join a bereavement group, or even speak to a spiritual leader.
18. It’s been over a year and I’m still sad, is this normal?
There is no “normal” for grief. Therapists at one point used to say that you should be more able to accept the new normal around one year, but thoughts have changed. Some -- for example, parents who lose a child -- say they never fully heal from the loss. All grief is unique and there is no timeline or scripted ending point. Hopefully, as time goes on, you will be able to embrace the idea that while they are physically gone, their spirit and memory live on in you.
19. Can I just take an antidepressant to make the pain go away?
An antidepressant may be helpful for you, but that’s for you and your therapist to decide. That being said, here’s some real talk: a pill is one tool for healing. It will not make your loss magically disappear, and you’ll still need to work through the pain, even with appropriate medication. Find a good therapist who can recommend next steps.
20. I lost my romantic partner/spouse and now I’m uncomfortable going out with my old friends because I’m the fifth wheel.
This is a really common reaction! We’ve been there too. It’s hard to feel that unevenness when you’re used to having been paired up in the group.
Try to pinpoint what part bothers you. Is it tough to see the others who still have their partners? Are you uncomfortable when the bill comes and either it doesn’t get split evenly anymore or your friends constantly try to treat? Maybe the conversations aren’t as jovial as they used to be and you think it’s your fault?
Rather than simply refuse the invitation, maybe you can address whatever the issue is, and come up with a solution. Maybe a couple of times you can go out with just the girls or guys. Maybe you can tell your friends you appreciate their generosity but you want to pay your own way. Whatever it is, chances are your friends want to help but aren’t sure what you might really need. Be honest with them so they can best support you.
21. My kids keep inviting me out because they think I’m lonely. I appreciate it but I don’t want to be a burden to them.
We’re sure you realize how fortunate you are to have such caring children. That being said, feeling like a burden, or even just feeling like you don’t want to deal with family, is natural. Why not be honest with them? Tell your children how much you appreciate time with them, but if you do want to be more independent, let them know that you’re OK on your own. If you have other outlets or social engagements, tell them so they won’t worry. Maybe you can set up a schedule that allows you to spend a given amount of time with them every week or month. If you really think they’re burdened by you, remember that they're helping you is part of their own grief journey and it will very likely help them to be a comfort to you in your process.
22. I find myself drinking at all hours of the day.
If this is the case, please do seek help. We know this is a difficult time, and while drinking may seem like a great escape from sadness or anxiety, it can be quite dangerous. It’s important to reach out for help. Contact a therapist, a local grief group, or even a nearby Alcoholics Anonymous chapter. Get the support you need, and remember, taking good care of you is the best tribute you can give to the dear one you’ve lost.
23. The world doesn’t seem to understand my pain. I feel so alone.
This is a very common feeling. Unfortunately, while your friends may want to help, those who have not experienced loss will struggle to truly empathize with you. We suggest joining a bereavement or grief therapy group. Each loss is unique but you may find solidarity and comfort with others who share a similar pain. You can also speak with a therapist who may be able to help you work through your feelings.