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Loss and grieving

perspective over the shoulder of a woman as she chats with another woman in a living room setting

As you and the people around you grow older, loss will become more common. You may have to cope with the death of a friend, spouse, parent, child, or beloved pet. Whether a death follows a long illness or is unexpected, you may experience a range of painful emotions, including:

  • Shock
  • Numbness
  • Denial
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Longing
  • Despair
  • Guilt

You are likely to cycle through a variety of emotions, which is a normal part of grieving. You might also have physical symptoms of grief, such as upset stomach, no appetite, problems sleeping, or low energy. 

Allowing yourself to grieve is vital to emotional healing after a major loss. Grieving can take months or even a few years. Expect that you may experience setbacks on holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. These steps can help you to cope with your pain:

  • Treat yourself kindly. Try to get enough sleep. Eat healthy and well-balanced meals. Avoid alcohol. Be physically active if you are able. If you have a lot of trouble eating, sleeping, concentrating, or doing other daily activities for more than the first two to three weeks, talk to you doctor. These could be signs of depression or another problem that can be helped with medical care.
  • Express your grief. Don't imagine what you "should" be feeling. Allow yourself to cry, be angry, or however you feel. Talk to others about your loss. You may even want to join a support group.
  • Avoid making major life changes, such as moving, until your pain and grief have subsided.

If you feel like you can't cope or if you are using alcohol or other substances to avoid the pain, get help from a friend, family member, clergy member, counselor, doctor, or support group.

If you are suicidal, or afraid you may become suicidal, seek help immediately.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
It's toll-free and available 24 hours a day, every day. Or call 911 or go to the emergency room — suicidal thoughts are an emergency.

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More information on Loss and grieving

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  • Mental Health - This section of womenshealth.gov provides information on taking care of your mental health throughout the different stages of your life.

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Content last updated: August 12, 2010.

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