Grief is a reaction to a major loss of someone or something. It is most often an unhappy and painful emotion.
Grief may be triggered by the death of a loved one. People also can experience grief if they have an illness for which there is no cure, or a chronic condition that affects their quality of life. The end of a significant relationship may also cause grieving.
Everyone feels grief in their own way. But there are common stages to the process of mourning. It starts with recognizing a loss and continues until a person eventually accepts that loss.
People's responses to grief will be different, depending on the circumstances of the death. For example, if the person who died had a chronic illness, the death may have been expected. The end of the person's suffering might even have come as a relief. If the death was accidental or violent, coming to a stage of acceptance might take longer.
One way to describe grief is in five stages. These reactions might not occur in a specific order, and can occur together. Not everyone experiences all of these emotions:
People who are grieving may have crying spells, trouble sleeping, and lack of productivity at work.
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms, including your sleep and appetite. Symptoms that last for a while may lead to clinical depression.
Family and friends can offer emotional support during the grieving process. Sometimes, outside factors can affect the normal grieving process, and people might need help from:
The acute phase of grief often lasts up to 2 months. Milder symptoms may last for a year or longer. Psychological counseling may help a person who is unable to face the loss (absent grief reaction), or who has depression with grieving.
Joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems and help relieve the stress from grieving especially if you have lost a child or spouse.
It may take a year or longer to overcome strong feelings of grief and to accept the loss.
Complications that may result from ongoing grief include:
Call your provider if:
Grief should not be prevented because it is a healthy response to loss. Instead, it should be respected. Those who are grieving should have support to help them through the process.
Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.