Handbook for Mortals : Enduring Loss : Experiencing grief – family and loved ones

In taking care of a dying loved one, you may experience grief at many points throughout the illness. For instance, there is the grief of first learning about the person’s illness, the grief as plans you shared are lost, or as you realize you may be spending your final days together. People often think that they have accomplished their grief and that death will be a simple continuation of a familiar emotion.

Unfortunately, death usually brings a grief all its own. People are sometimes surprised to discover that mourning begins again, and grief appears anew. Often, in the immediate wake of death, we become numb just to survive funerals and memorial services or to take care of a person’s estate and belongings. Then, as relatives and friends disperse, we are alone, again, with grief.

The things you decide to do -- or not do -- are usually perfectly good ways to deal with your own grief. Follow your heart and your mind. They are not likely to lead you in the wrong direction.

How it feels to grieve

Grief, like other emotions, can make its presence known both in body and mind. You may:

  • Lose your appetite
  • Experience aches and pains
  • Sleep too long or not enough
  • Feel depressed, melancholy, hopeless
  • Feel angry at the world, your-self, or your loved one
  • Feel guilty for things left unsaid or undone
  • Feel unable to concentrate

All of these feelings and sensations are grief’s way of making its presence known. These reactions are the normal, human response to loss.

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Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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