Posted 3/13/2008


[Notice: A portion of this material was

copied from a book by Dr. Roberta Temes, Living With An Empty Chair.

She has been kind enough to permit inclusion of her material.]


Surviving Loss 


Passing Through Grief



This Guide addresses those of you who are not dying; you who must continue living, even though someone you love is dead.

Notice that bereavement, mourning, and grief are used interchangeably rather than according to their strictest definitions.

Please understand that there are no outside authorities on death or bereavement. We each experience the death of someone we love in our own unique style. Your experience is valid for you and your response is right for you. If you are bereaved, you are hurting. This book will not take away the hurt. It will, though, explain the whys and wherefores of your pain; sometimes anxiety is allayed when a feeling or experience is labeled.

This Guide Through Grief is based upon the assumption that although there is now an empty chair in your house, your thoughts and feelings are still very much attached to the person who occupied that chair. The relationship still exists.

Death is a fact of life.

It has, of course, always been so. Yet only now, in the final quarter of the Twentieth Century, is death being acknowledged as worthy of open, investigative discussion. Death is now where sex was twenty years ago - just coming out of the closet. Anthropologist Margaret Mead has written that "when a person is born we rejoice, and when they're married we jubilate, but when they die we try to pretend nothing has happened."

In our society there is no formalized way to sever the relationship you have maintained with the deceased. What are you to do with the emotional investment of a lifetime? The body may be buried, but the emotions of those who love the deceased continue to survive.



Death is a normal life crisis. Other normal life crises include marriage, the birth of offspring, and divorce. Engagement helps us adapt to our new role as marriage partner; pregnancy permits us nine months to prepare for parenthood; and separation prepares us for divorce. Moving to a new neighborhood is a normal life crisis and usually some version of the "Welcome Wagon" is present to help us cope and adjust. Leaving one job and accepting a new one also is a crisis. We are expected to be anxious about beginning the new. This is normal.

Institutionalized preparation periods notwithstanding, we still anticipate difficult emotional reactions during these normal life crises. Each bride, mother, and divorcee, if she feels unsure or flounders in her new position, is reassured that she is simply experiencing a "period of adjustment."

With the loss of someone close to you, you are also going through a normal life crisis. You, too, need a period of adjustment. How do you deal with the powerful emotions that threaten to overwhelm you? It is likely that you have no guide to follow during that painful period after the death of a loved one. You have no preparation for your new role as mourner. Please be assured that while the physical presence of the person has been eliminated, the relationship still exists.

Grief is not a disease. There is no magic pill to achieve a quick cure. Grief is a long, agonizing process, but it does have an end. Grief is usually experienced in three distinct stages. Each stage must be gone through in its entirety before you can feel "back to normal." Experiencing the pain of grief at the appropriate point in time prevents the deeper pain of delayed grief. Thus, advice such as "keep a stiff upper lip" or "snap out of it; there's so much to live for," however well-meaning, is potentially harmful. The griever can simply thank the well-wisher, and proceed through her journey of grief.



The effects of unresolved grief can be serious. Some bereaved individuals find it too painful to mourn. They postpone a confrontation with their feelings for as long as is possible. They fill every hour of day and evening with frantic activity. Then months, or even years later, a seemingly insignificant loss will set off an inappropriate grief reaction. The person can panic and not understand what is happening. The answer, of course, is that the mourning process is just beginning.



The absence of mourning symptoms is a warning signal. Denial is an unconscious psychological defense. Everyone uses some denial during the course of a life time. Children and psychotics use it often. When there is a thought, a wish, or a fact that is intolerable for you to confront, the denial process intervenes and separates you from the pain. Denial acts like an aspirin: the ache is still there, but you do not experience it. When you use denial, danger is not overwhelming, reality is not painful.

If you find that you are behaving as if nothing has happened and have no outward signs of mourning, or if you are behaving as if something wonderful has happened and you are euphoric most of the time, it would be worthwhile to visit a psychotherapist or other qualified bereavement counselor.

Some people feel they must always be strong and in control. If you are this way, please understand that in this situation it is a sign of strength to be able to express your emotions. It is absolutely essential that your feelings be released. If they are not released through words and tears, they will find expression through other ways. Sometimes serious illnesses occur when the bereaved is unable to express her feelings.



Freud defined mourning as a "conscious reaction to the loss of a loved one." Psychoanalysts today usually say that mourning consists of a conventional ritual determined by the particular social, cultural, and religious groups to which you belong. Grief is the term usually used to describe the psychological and physiological reactions you are experiencing: that is, those things that are happening now in your mind and in your body.

Bereavement is a psychologically necessary state. Even though you feel terrible, it is healthy for you to be feeling that way now. As you proceed through the stages of bereavement you will become increasingly liberated from the agony of your recent experience with death. Ultimately, the dual goals of the mourning process will be realized. These two goals, signifying the end of bereavement, are (1) to complete the emotional relationship with the deceased and (2) to refocus your life's energies toward the future.

In psychoanalytic terms we are discussing the process of decathexis. When we place much emotion and value onto someone, that person becomes cathected (emotionally valued) for us. To gradually displace some of that emotion onto other people and things is called decathexis. This is a long process. You cannot finish bereavement quickly, but you can finish it.


Stages of Grief

Have you begun the bereavement process yet?

There are predictable stages of the bereavement process. Not everyone experiences the same feelings at the same points in time, but grief does typically include three distinct stages. These stages may be called numbness, disorganization, and reorganization.


The first stage of bereavement begins at the moment of death, and continues for the next several weeks or months. If you are fortunate, during this time your family, friends and neighbors are concerned and solicitous. They are there to be leaned upon, physically and psychologically. You may be surprised to notice yourself maintaining an emotional distance from these helpers. That is because you are not yet ready to deal with all your powerful feelings. You must perform certain tasks, such as funeral arrangements or estate settlements, which require your immediate attention. Your field of vision is restricted to the accomplishment and discharge of these current chores. Your functioning may be automatic, mechanical and robot-like. That is because you are still numb from the shock of the death. You may feel as if you are suspended in an unreal state. During this initial stage of grief you may be unable to grasp the full significance of your loss. You may feel as if you are involved in a bad dream which will soon be over. This is your mind's way of protecting you from fully recognizing the painful finality of death.

One emotion which occasionally surfaces at this early stage, aside from genuine sorrow, is a fleeting feeling of anger toward the deceased. Immediately guilt takes over and neutralizes that anger, which may emerge during the next phase of the grief process.


A second or middle phase of grief begins as soon as the insulation provided by shock starts to wear off. Several weeks or months have passed since the death. The haze is lifting. Friends and family have resumed their former commitments, and are not as attentive as they have been. Your neighbor, who each day checked in to see how you were doing, now comes by only once a week. The relatives who telephoned long distance now just write occasionally. The children who came home from school, or traveled from their homes across the continent, now are immersed in their regular routines. It seems that, for everyone else, life has returned to what it was before the death. It is ironic, and sad, that now, when you can finally appreciate intimacy and no longer want, or need, to feel distant from others, there are few with whom to share your feelings. The numbness lifts, and the full meaning of the loss is felt. You actually feel a vacuum. There is acute loneliness and emptiness where there was once life. These are normal and appropriate feelings during this stage of bereavement.

Friends and relatives may become alarmed. ("She was taking it so well, but now look at her. She must be having a nervous breakdown.") Those friends and relatives do not realize that a disorganization of personality, including symptoms of depression, are to be expected now. Aimlessness and apathy, loss of appetite and loss of sleep, constant weeping, are all indications of the pain and the despair you feel. Universal symptoms of grief include feelings of tightness in your throat, shortness of breath, the need to frequently sigh, and extreme fatigue.


Perhaps you are feeling restless and cannot concentrate. If so, it may be that you have not yet fully accepted your loss as permanent. Your constant search for "something to interest me" may be a disguised way of searching for your loved one. Your urge to recover your lost one, your yearning and your hope, create feelings of anxiety and panic. Gradually, as reality intrudes, you will give up hoping for that reunion and begin accepting and adjusting. This may not make you feel better, though. While the anxiety you felt was a reaction to the danger of a loss, the increasing awareness of the loss brings pain.

During this phase you are feeling a persistent pain of loneliness and at the same time are being confronted with new responsibilities. Whether it is winterizing the car, taking out the garbage, or diapering the baby, you are performing chores that were once someone else's obligation. Each of these is now a reminder that "someone else" is dead.


Objects belonging to the deceased may take on particular emotional significance. When you were a toddler and had to be separated from your mother, you probably had a comforting reminder of her to carry around during her absence. Such reminders are called transitional objects by the professionals, but are more familiarly known as security blankets.

Perhaps you are using a transitional object now, to remind you of your lost loved one. Most people do need some articles of the deceased which they sometimes sleep with, wear, hold, or simply look at. This is normal behavior.

The layer of psychological protection developed during the initial stage of grief has diminished and as you experience the pain of deep feelings you may be resentful and feel sorry for yourself. Again, this is normal. Sorrow for self is a fundamental part of grief work. It is necessary for you to feel sorry for yourself and for your predicament.


Other emotions yearning for expression during the middle phase of mourning are shame, fear, guilt, hopelessness and helplessness, and anger. Feelings of anger that were brief during the initial stage are likely now to reoccur with greater frequency and strength. Your anger should not be stifled by those attempting to help you. Even rage is appropriate at this point. William Shakespeare gives recognition to the bereaved's anger in a passage in King Henry the VI:

"We mourn in black: why mourn we not in blood?"

To hide from the anger you feel toward the deceased is to risk developing symptoms at a later date, symptoms which may be far more difficult to deal with than the original anger.

In "The Angry Book," psychiatrist Theodore Rubin describes a patient as follows:

I remember a woman I had in treatment who suffered from a very severe, ugly lesion that covered most of her body.....She had been to many doctors to no avail.....Marcy was an extremely self-effacing, compliant woman who spent most of her early treatment hours in an effort to convince me of how really happy she was. She told me that she adored her dead father as well as her gentle, sweet, devoted mother (still alive). Her image of herself was very much like her image of her mother. She did not remember ever having been angry. The reason for her refusal to see a psychoanalyst soon became apparent. She simply did not wish to disturb a just-too-perfect image. And disturbed it became! After months of work - particularly of analysis of dreams - it became apparent that she did in fact love her father but was also happy that he died.

These seemingly mutually exclusive emotional entities are extremely common in human psychology. Marcy felt that her father's death was revenge and a vindictive triumph over her mother. As time went on, the twisting of this rage became unnecessary. Strengthened by our relationship she became aware that her anger did not kill her father nor did anger make her an evil person. For two years she did little else than report to me three times a week and sound off enormous anger - and as she did so., her skin cleared. Eventually the lesion disappeared and was replaced by healthy tissue. Much subsequent work relieved her of the need to be sweet and angelic (with an enraged skin). She chose instead just to be human.

This is an extreme case, but the message to you is clear. You are indeed angry. You have been abandoned by someone you love. You have a right to ask, "Why me?" Your feelings of anger are proof that you are human. Many people in your circumstance are embarrassed to notice that they are hostile in the presence of those very people who are trying to help. This often occurs; soon your hostility will disappear. Meanwhile, while it is part of you, neither harbor it nor deny it; be it.


Do you feel guilty because the death has brought you some relief? It is perfectly appropriate to feel relieved at the same time that you are feeling devastated. You should be allowed to ventilate these feelings.

If your loss occurred at the end of a long illness, then even though you miss the person, a part of you may be relieved because your physical responsibilities have ended. The task of caring for a dying person can be dreadfully difficult.

The difficulty is compounded if the fatal illness was a secret (either from the dying person or between you and the dying person). Keeping a secret from someone you love meant that all interaction with that person had some duplicity. You were always under a strain and had no way to express your feelings. You now may feel relieved from carrying that burden of deception.

Close meaningful relationships permit the luxury of shouting, yelling, feeling resentful, maybe even saying "Drop dead" or "I hope you never return." While normal human beings are capable of anger, they are not endowed with magical powers. Anger cannot kill. Guilt feelings must somehow now be expressed in order for you to experience that which you already know on an intellectual level - that the death did not occur because of your wish or your words. Unresolved guilt is a basic problem of bereavement.


Whatever loss you feel is valid, regardless of the superficial quality of the relationship. Even the occasional harsh words you had with the deceased are proof of the intimacy you shared. We do not argue with strangers. We care enough to pursue an issue only with people whose opinions we value. The husband who fought furiously with his wife is in the same pain, and going through the same grief, as the husband who showed only kindness toward his wife. The daughter grieving for the mother with whom she had daily shouting matches is suffering as much as the compliant daughter who never disagreed with her parent. When intense feelings are invested there is always a deep and complicated emotional relationship.

Acknowledging the negative as well as the positive traits of the deceased will help you proceed through grief at a steady pace. Setbacks in the process occur when you are unable to recognize those parts of the deceased person's personality which were disagreeable to you. This is not easy. It is difficult to endure the expression of painful emotions. In fact, the passage through the stages of bereavement is work. It is called grief work. Grief work is the emotional reorganization you must attend to before life can return to normal. Grief work is hard work. That may be why you are so often tired.


During this middle phase of mourning, you may "forget" that the person you loved is permanently gone. This is normal and should not be interpreted as "sick" behavior. Rather, it is behavior propelled by habit. A new widow who, for forty years, has set a dinner table for two, may continue to do so. The widower, upon hearing the phone ring, may automatically request his wife to "please get the phone, hon."

Be assured. It is normal to occasionally act as if the dead person is still alive. Bereaved people sometimes hallucinate during this stage. The wife so desperately wishes to hear the familiar sounds indicating that her hus band has returned from a day's work that she is certain she hears the car pulling into the driveway, or his key turning in the lock. Similarly the widower may insist that he can smell his wife's perfume, or hear her footsteps. Bereaved parents frequently report that they hear their child crying. A college student reported that she once ran completely across campus, pursuing a young woman whom she thought was her recently deceased sister. Many bereaved people look forward to dreams that permit them to interact, once again, with the deceased. Reports of ghosts, haunted houses, and footsteps in the night, as well as some reports of successful seances, may be attributed to the urgent wish to be in contact with the deceased.


Just as you now have a need to talk about your feelings, you may also have a need to talk about both the life and the death of your loved one. As you proceed through this troublesome time it becomes psychologically necessary to review the details of the life you shared with the deceased. Whether or not your listeners consider it a tedious review, it is important that you are encouraged to speak of the past. You may wish to inform your friends or family that this need will not persist indefinitely.

Soon you will go on to other things - such as speaking about all aspects of the actual death. It may be necessary for you to reiterate every last detail. Often people spend weeks telling friends exactly what they ate for breakfast on that fateful day. Such recounting should be encouraged.

You must be permitted to freely speak about the circumstances of the death. In order to incorporate the finality of the situation you will need to re-live those last few days or hours. Professor Philip Percorino, of City University, New York, has termed this process "psychic slapping." Over and over you bombard your mind with the details of the death, until finally you recognize the reality of the situation. Again, apprise your friends: this is something you need to do now, not forever.


Symptoms of the middle phase of mourning closely resemble some symptoms of mental illness. The difference, of course, is that indications of mental illness do not spontaneously and permanently disappear, while indications of grief will eradicate themselves as the mourning process is completed.

The distinguished actress, Helen Hayes, when asked to comment on her adjustment to widowhood, candidly admitted: "For two years I was just as crazy as you can be and still be at large. It was total confusion. How did I come out of it? I don't know, because I didn't know when I was in it that I was in it."

Lynn Caine substantiates this in her autobiographical book "Widow." She writes, "During my crazy periods I made terrible financial mistakes. And that's why I keep repeating my advice to widows. Sit. Be quiet. Don't move. You have to understand that your mind is not working properly, even though you think it is. Protect yourself from yourself."

Ms. Caine describes her inability to be at peace with herself during the midphase of mourning. "I had to do something. That, of course, is the trap most widows fall into. The most difficult advice in the world to follow is "Do Nothing."

In an effort to be helpful to you, some well-wishers may respond to your grief symptoms as if they were symptoms of severe mental illness. It is important for you to know and remind yourself: if you were not mentally ill prior to the death of your loved one, you will recover from bereavement and regain your ability to function. Bereavement happens to an existing personality. You have strengths, weaknesses, and previous experiences of coping with loss. To cope is to acknowledge that a problem exists and then to decide upon a course of action. The combination of your personality structure and the expertise of the helpers available to you can often determine how rocky or smooth the road through bereavement will be.

Recovery from grief is enhanced and hastened if you are able to experience the temporary, but necessary, irra tional feelings and thoughts which are normal during mourning. If you allow yourself to feel all your feelings, and if you can develop a total acceptance of your brief period of craziness, you will soon be well again. Pause for a moment. How are you feeling? What are you feeling? Are your grief responses similar to those described here? How are they different? Remember, you are a distinct and unique personality. Learn to become aware of your feelings. Then trust those feelings.


Middle-phase mourners find the complexity of life threatening and frightening. The daily tasks of living seem overwhelming. But as you emerge through the midphase of grief, you again find the world secure and rewarding.

The dual task of mourning, completion of the emotional relationship with the deceased, and re-directing of energy toward the future, usually begins to be accomplished somewhere between the first and second anniversary of the death. Gradually you weep less and have less of a need to indiscriminately talk about the decease. Sleep and appetite are being restored. You may be surprised to find that occasionally several hours, and perhaps a full day, might pass during which your mind does not automatically return to thoughts of the deceased. Upon awakening, the first thought of the day is sometimes not of the deceased, but of the day's activities. This end phase of mourning is a relief. Life is no longer one frantic anxiety attack. There is a commitment to the future: you know that the dead person will never be forgotten, but you also know that your life will continue.

If you are lucky, there is someone in your environment who will acknowledge any gestures which signify a will ingness to re-enter a full life. A hesitant phone call, an inquiry about a future meeting or event, a tentative plan - all these should be encouraged by the helping friend or relative. The helper has definite tasks to perform during each stage of grief. During stage one of the mourning process, the helper is there to be leaned upon and give concrete assistance with managing necessary chores. During stage two the helper must provide sanction to ventilate emotions, all emotions, and must tirelessly listen to the repeated stories about the life and death of the loved one. Now, in the last stage of mourning, the helper must be there to help expand a social network and encourage involvement and interest in life.

You have successfully completed mourning. You under stand that the world has been impoverished because of this death, but you, personally, have not been impoverish ed. You are, once again, whole. You care, once again, about yourself. You are re-organizing your life toward the future. You are calm, but you may still have terrible days. As time passes such days will occur with less frequency.

Try not to be alarmed by occasional setbacks. Some peo ple find that they may do well for an entire year only to find themselves virtually incapacitated by grief during the days surrounding the anniversary of the death. Such anniversary reactions are normal. In fact, Judaic law has a prescribed ritual for "death days" - the anniversary of the death. You are expected to need to discharge extra emotions during those days. The deceased will never be forgotten but the relationship is in its proper perspective. Your grief work is finishing. The pleasures of living now have more appeal than the thought of joining the deceased in death. A new stage of life is about to begin.



Philosopher, Arnold Toynbee, in his essay "Reflections on My Own Death," has stated that true love might be proved by the wish of a person to outlive his loved one, so that the loved one is spared the anguish of grief.

Rich or poor, young or old, no one is exempt from the devastating effects of grief. All mourn. All suffer.

Everyone who lives a full life must, at some time or another, live with an empty chair. Whether the chair you live with belonged to a parent or spouse, a child or lover, a best friend or relative, it is empty now, and its emptiness represents a task for you. To accomplish this task is to become accustomed to living with that empty chair. When you no longer fear it or revere it, but can simply accept it, you will know that you are completing your grief work.















Stage one: NUMBNESS


Several weeks or months

Mechanical functioning, insulation

Emotional distance.

To protect self from feeling impact of loss

Assist with chores.

Stage Two:



Many months

Painful feelings:




Sleep and appetite difficulties. Sorrow for self, hallucinations

Intimacy, ventilation of feelings

Acknowledge impact of loss.

Permit expression of all feelings. Listen to talk about life together and details of death.

Stage Three:



Several weeks or months

Occasional peacefulness. Less intensity of feelings.

Encouragement to re-enter life's mainstream.

Complete emotional relationship with deceased.

Expand social network.


and...another source of counsel



¨      A feeling of tightness in the throat or heaviness in the chest.

¨      An empty feeling in the stomach and loss of appetite.

¨      Restlessness and a need for activity,, accompanied by an inability to concentrate.

¨      A feeling that the loss isn't real, that it didn't actually happen.

¨      A sense of the loved one's presence, like finding yourself expecting the person to walk in the door at the usual time, hearing their voice, or seeing their face.

¨      Aimless wandering, forgetfulness, inability to finish things you've started to do around the house.-

¨      Difficulty sleeping, frequent dreams about your loved one.

¨      A tendency to assume the mannerisms or traits of your loved one.

¨      An intense preoccupation with the life-of the deceased.

¨      Intense anger at the loved one for leaving you.

¨      A need to take care of other people who seem uncomfortable around you, by politely not talking about the feelings of loss.

¨      A need to tell and retell and remember things about the loved one and the experience of their death.

¨      Crying at unexpected times.

These are all natural and normal grief responses. It is important to cry and talk with people when you need to.



The work of grief cannot be hurried. It takes a great deal of time, usually a year or more. It may be the purest pain you have ever known. The death of a loved one is considered the most stressful of all life change situations. What is happening to you is, of all things, natural.

The following are stages of grief that are commonly experienced after the loss of a loved one. You may not experience all of these, and you may not experience them in -this order. It is important to realize, however, that what you are feeling is natural, and with time, will begin to heal.


Some people experience shock after a loss, saying things like, "I feel numb," and displaying no tears or emotion. Sometimes there is denial. Gradually, the bereaved become aware of what has happened and they are able to express their emotions. Other people never go through a prolonged stage of shock. They are able to express their emotions immediately.

Emotional Release

At some point, a person begins to feel and to hurt. It is very important not to suppress your feelings (anger, sadness, fear, etc.). Suppressed feelings often surface at a later time in unhealthy ways. Shared feelings are a gift, and bring a closeness to all involved.

Preoccupation with the Deceased

Despite efforts to think of other things, a grieving person may find it difficult to shift his/her mind from thoughts about the deceased person. This is not unusual and, with time, should not be a problem.

Symptoms of some physical and emotional distresses

a) These distresses may come in waves, some lasting from 20 minutes to a full hour. The most common physical distresses are:

1.      Sleeplessness.

2.      Tightness in the throat.

3.      A choking feeling, with shortness of breath.

4.      A need for sighing.

5.      An empty, hollow feeling in the stomach.

6.      Lack of muscular power (e.g. "It's almost impossible to climb the stairs." "Everything I lift seems so heavy.")

7.      Digestive symptoms and poor appetite (e.g. the food "tastes like sand")

b) Closely associated with the physical distresses may be certain emotional alterations, the most common are:

1.      A slight sense of unreality.

2.      Feelings of emotional distance from people - that no one really cares or understands.

3.      sometimes people appear shadowy or very small.

4.      Sometimes there are feelings of panic, thoughts of self-destruction, or the desire to run away or "chuck it all".

These emotional disturbances can cause many people to feel they are approaching insanity, but these feelings are actually normal.

Hostile Reactions

You may catch yourself responding with a great deal of anger to situations that previously would not have bothered you at all. These feelings can be surprising and very uncomfortable. They often make people feel that they are going insane. Anger may be directed at the doctor, the nurse, God, or the minister.

Often, too, there may be feelings of hurt or hostility toward family members who do not, or for various reasons cannot, provide the emotional support the grieving person may have expected from them. Anger and hostility are normal. Do not suppress your anger. However, it is important that you understand and direct your anger toward what you are really angry at - the loss, of someone you loved.


There is most always some sense of quilt in grief. The bereaved think of the many things they felt they could have done, but didn't. They accuse themselves of negligence. Furthermore, if a person was hostile toward the deceased, there will be guilt. It is important to note that no two people can live together without some sort of hurt being done. This is part of life and does not warrant your guilt. These hurts pop up in grief. Guilt is normal and should pass with time.


Many grieving people feel total despair, unbearable loneliness and hopelessness; nothing seems worthwhile. These feelings may be even more intense for those who live alone or who have little family. These feelings are normal and should also pass with time.


The grieving person often tends to withdraw from social relationships. Their daily routines are often disrupted as well. Life seems like a bad dream. This is normal and will take some effort to overcome, but the rewards are worthwhile.


Holidays and anniversaries are times when people remember important and usually happy occasions, and at the same time, look forward to the future. If there has been a death in the family, emotional wounds are left that can ache during these times of warmth and cheer. Feelings of isolation and loneliness can magnify.

With planning and forethought, it is possible to get through these times. We hope the following suggestions are as helpful to you as they have been for others.

1.      Realize that this is a new holiday, unlike the holidays of the past.

2.      Acknowledge the absence of your loved one. Have a dinner or toast in their honor. Visit the cemetery or memorial site. Don't be afraid to cry - or to smile!

3.      Engage in spiritual activities that are comfortable for you.

4.      Do things because you want to do them, not because your loved one "would have wanted it that way." Do what you are comfortable doing.

5.      Initiate activity yourself; do not wait for others. Plan your own holiday. Make phone calls to friends or relatives. Calls to people in similar situations can be-worthwhile. Follow through with these activities.

6.      Remember that one is a whole number. You need not-be part of a couple to enjoy yourself. Time spent by yourself can also be rewarding.

7.      Be gentle with yourself. All wounds take time to heal. Realize you will feel sad at times.

8.      Take time to identify and take care of your needs. Get adequate rest and exercise. Be aware of the increased accessibility to sugar, caffeine, and alcohol during the holiday season, and guard against overuse of these substances.

9.      Look at the holiday season as the beginning of a new journey, starting a new year. Enjoy the gifts of the season found in special memories and contact with friends and family.


Only you know what places, situations, and/or people help you to relax the best. There are however, some general guidelines that you may find helpful.

When we're tense, our breathing becomes shallow. When a person is weighted down with strong and painful feelings, he or she often breathes improperly, depriving the brain of necessary oxygen. Taking slow, deep breaths is a good way to ease your tension and resume proper breathing. Place your hand on your diaphragm (just .below the rib cage and above the stomach). Take a deep breath through your nose. As you inhale, you should feel your hand pushed outward. Exhale through your mouth. Repeat this exercise until your breathing is deep and regular.

To relieve tension in your body, try this exercise. In a comfortable surrounding, try tensing and relaxing each muscle group in turn, starting with your feet and working up to your head. Be aware of knots of tension in your body. Practice slow, deep breathing.

The greatest healer and stress reducer will be the love of those around you. Allow them the privilege of helping you through this. Spend time alone with God or in quiet contemplation. Your anger, fears and needs all will be welcome.

Re-entering relationships

After time, effort, airing of feelings, and a lot of love, the grieving person readjusts to his or her environment, reestablishes old relationships and begins to form new ones.

Resolution and Readjustment

This comes gradually. The memories are still there, the love is still there, but the wound begins to heal. You begin to get on with your life. It's hard to believe now, but you will be better. By experiencing deep emotion, and accepting it, you grow in warmth, depth, understanding and wisdom.


You may find it helpful to put your thoughts about your loved one down on paper. Sometimes people will write to the person who died, expressing their thoughts and feelings.

What I wish I had said or hadn't said. Ways in which you will continue to live on in me (Your love, our children, etc.)

Choose ideas that have significance for your ideas - specific to your situation and relationship.

Some people simply use the journal as a place to express their feelings after a loss; their confusion and pain. A journal can help you work through your grief by giving you an outlet and a way to express yourself. Once that is done, it can help you move on.




The loss of a loved one is the single most stressful thing that can happen to a person. This is a time to be aware of increased vulnerability and the need to take great care of yourself. Because of this increased stress and vulnerability, health problems appear more often during a bereavement period.

By taking care of ourselves and practicing "stress management., if we can decrease the physical and emotional wear and tear that stress can cause. There are five components of stress management: Good Nutrition; Sleep; Physical Exercise; Being Kind to Yourself; and Relaxation.

Good Nutrition

Changes in eating habits are normal during a period of grief. It is important to realize that your body is undergoing a lot of stress from the demands of grief work. Even though You may not feel like eating (You may say, "What's the use?"), you need the energy provided by balanced, nutritious meals. It may be hard to cook for yourself, but, for your own healing, it is important to eat regular, balanced meals, and to get the vitamins you need.

Increase your protein intake - this helps in stressful times. Also increase the intake of calcium (milk and cheese products)' and potassium (bananas, baked potatoes, oranges) ; each helps to combat stress. Consider a B-vitamin or multi-stress vitamin as a daily supplement. Avoid "junk foods" and empty calories.

People frequently have difficulty sleeping during a period of bereavement. It is important to get adequate rest. If you feel extra sleep is necessary, go to bed earlier Experts say that taking a vacation from the alarm clock on weekends can upset the body's sleep rhythms all week long. Make bedtime the final stage of a regular evening ritual. Walk the dog, watch TV, read a book - the activity is less critical than sticking to the same routine night after night. You'll sleep sounder after a late afternoon workout. Avoid any heavy-duty exertion just prior to bed time.

Avoid the "big three" - caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. All of these upset sleep, even if you find them "relaxing." Alcohol may make you tired, but it reduces the quality of sleep. Caffeine and tobacco may interfere with sleep. Remember that many soft drinks, as well as tea and chocolate, contain caffeine.

Stress is the number one enemy of sleep. Relaxation training can help derail a lot of disturbing thoughts and ease tight muscles that make it hard to sleep soundly. (See later notes on relaxation techniques.)

A low-protein, high carbohydrate snack before bedtime often shortens the time it takes to fall asleep. But remember" if you are on a special diet, be sure to consult your physician or nutritionist about changes in your diet.

For insomnia lasting up to three weeks - or during illness or bereavement - sleeping pills may be medically necessary. Your physician will provide you directions for taking sleeping pills. Some people find that if they take a pill for only a night or tow their sleep patterns will go back to normal. Next-day effects may include poor memory or concentration, drowsiness, dizziness, lack of coordination, and digestive woes. Be sure to consult your physician before taking such medicines.

Physical Exercise

Moderate, regular exercise helps relieve tension and elevate one's mood. Don't take on anything too strenuous, but rather, have a regular, planned activity, such as swimming, walking, or bike-riding, that will help loosen tense muscles and increase your sense of well-being. Walking with a friend provides an opportunity to share feelings as well, and can be excellent therapy. The local health clubs have many excellent exercise-programs for all ages and ability levels.

Be Kind to Yourself

Emotional injury can often require even more healing than physical injury.

It is normal for low periods to become depressions during a period of grieving.. These are normal responses, as long as they do not continue for great lengths of time, or become dangerous to you.

Here are some suggestions for helping yourself through a depression:

Get some exercise.

Try to maintain good eating and sleeping habits. Go out to eat with friends.

Engage in a distracting activity, such as reading, watching TV or a movie, visiting the park, shopping, etc.

Engage in comfort-seeking activities, such as talking with a friend, your pastor or your doctor, praying, writing letters, or having a massage.

Engage in constructive or creative activities, such as setting small goals that can be achieved every day, planning something for the future, planting flowers, painting or drawing, sewing or quilting.

Do one good thing for yourself each day; do some needed chores; help our someone else; pay attention to your personal appearance. You will feel better when you look better.

Engage in contemplative activities, such as listening to music, getting some sun, visiting the countryside, or just taking a bath.