What is Grief?

Author: Christina Bach, MBE, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW
Content Contributor: Jordan Kotler, MSW, LSW and Joslyn Trovati, MSW, LSW
Last Reviewed:

Grief is the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors you experience because of the loss of something important. It is not only experienced after a death. You could have grief over the loss of a relationship, a loved one, a job, an object, a pet, or anything else a person values. 

People with cancer may experience grief over

  • the loss of their hair.
  • the loss of their independence (including financial independence).
  • changes to their body image.
  • changes to their future plans.
  • the loss of the ability to have children.

What does grief look and feel like? 

Everyone deals with grief differently. You may cry all the time and feel like it is impossible to do basic daily tasks like getting out of bed. You may laugh, feel numb, or wonder why you aren't crying or laughing like others. You may avoid anything that might remind you of your loss(es). Each of these reactions is normal—there's no right way to grieve. 

How long will this last? 

Grief is different for everyone. For several months following the loss, you may experience acute grief - including changes in appetite, trouble sleeping or sleeping to much or feeling extreme sadness. You may feel incredibly intense. People experiencing grief still feel other emotions - it is normal to also feel happy, relieved, hopeful, angry, or excited. 

How will I feel in a few months? 

As time goes on and you get space from the initial loss, you begin to integrate the loss into your life. You may feel able to get back to normal activities as the pain of grief slowly subsides. This does not mean that you miss your loved one any less, or that the pain from the loss fully disappears. Instead, you have adjusted to the loss being part of your life. It is also normal to feel “bursts” of grief symptoms around holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries of special events or death. 

When you are grieving, feelings of depression are normal. If you are having difficulty managing your grief or are having thoughts of hurting yourself, please reach out to 800-273-TALK [8255] for a 24-hr hotline or text HOME to 741741 for text support.

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