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Loss & Mourning

Experiencing loss

Losing a connection important to you – the end of a relationship, the death of someone close to you, or another major loss – is an intense, confusing time. Most of us, however, don’t think about loss until circumstances force us to.

At some point we all deal with loss and mourning, in our own lives or while supporting another. Understanding the process can help you gain perspective on your loss, or be as helpful as possible to others who are grieving.

Grief

Grief usually runs a course that can be divided into periods. The time frames associated with each can vary significantly depending on the individuals and their relationships.

The mourning period occurs immediately after a loss and lasts about two weeks. After a death, the bereaved person is usually involved in funeral or memorial services, in contact with family and/or community, and frequently stays home from school or work. At the end of a relationship, a person may experience similar feelings but without any rituals to mark the ending.

The grieving period continues for about six months to a year. During this time the person usually returns to normal activities while continuing to experience the loss in many ways. As this period ends, the person usually comes to some degree of acceptance of the loss. However, periods of grief throughout one’s lifetime also commonly occur.

Stages of grief

The stages of grief are commonly identified as:

• shock and denial;
• anger;
• grief; and
• acceptance.

The process is complex and variable; few experience each stage equally or exactly in the order described.

The initial response of shock and denial may produce reactions ranging from withdrawal to tears. When the loss is actually realized, intense physical and emotional distress can result, including tightness in the throat, shortness of breath, weakness, great tension or emotional pain.

As time goes on the person may become preoccupied with the lost individual and express anger, resentment and rage. Many people also feel guilty or try to take responsibility for the loss.

Grieving and acceptance occur as the person experiences these feelings and explores memories associated with the lost person or relationship. An “anniversary effect,” in which some of emotions felt during the grief period resurface, is common. This can happen at the same time of year as the loss, or be triggered by something which the person relates to it.

Unresolved grief

Sometimes, people are unable to accept loss and the emotions connected with it. Someone with unresolved grief may:

  • seem unable to move through the stages of grief over an extended period of time;
  • express unreasonable or chronic guilt, or thoughts of suicide; or
  • experience physical problems such as loss of appetite, sleep issues, fatigue, agitation, listlessness, loss of interest in usual activities, or difficulty concentrating.

Support and resources

To help someone who’s grieving, provide a supportive atmosphere in which the person can talk freely. Create a climate of trust, so that feelings expressed can be accepted and understood as a normal part of the grief process.

If you or someone you know seems unable to resolve grief, involving family, friends, clergy, spiritual mentors, or professional counselors can help.

On-campus, students can contact the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health (CCPH), (413) 545-2337.

The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program is a confidential resource for UMass Amherst employees; call (413) 545-0530.