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Am I normal?

Grief can be so painful and overwhelming, it often frightens us. Many people worry if they are grieving the “right way” and wonder if the feelings they have are normal.  Although the list below may not cover every way a person might experience grief, the range of experiences does reflect the idea that no one person grieves exactly the same way as another. Grief is as unique as you, the one you've lost, and the nature of the connection[s] between you both.

Most people who suffer a loss experience one or more of the following:


  • Feeling numb as though the loss is not real, that it did not actually happen
  • Need to tell, retell and remember things about the loved one and the experience of their death
  • A feeling of tightness in the throat or heaviness in the chest
  • An empty feeling in the stomach and loss of appetite
  • Mixed feelings that may include sadness, anger, guilt or relief
  • Feelings of restlessness and difficulty concentrating
  • Sensing the loved one's presence, like expecting the loved one to walk in the door at the usual time, hearing their voice or seeing their face
  • Wandering aimlessly, forgetting what they are doing and not finishing things they have started
  • Difficulty sleeping or dreaming of their loved one frequently
  • Assuming mannerisms or traits of their loved one
  • Experiencing an intense preoccupation with the life of the deceased
  • Feeling guilty or angry over things that happened or did not happen in the relationship with the deceased
  • Feeling intensely angry at the loved one for leaving them
  • Feeling as though they need to take care of other people who seem uncomfortable around them by politely not talking about their feelings of loss
  • Experiencing mood changes over the slightest things
  • Crying at unexpected times


Physical symptoms

Frequent tiredness, restlessness, headache, stomach problems, tightness in chest, hollow feeling in stomach, dizziness, dry mouth, nausea, changes in sleep patterns.


Emotional symptoms

Sadness, anger, frequent crying, feeling helpless, feeling worthless, guilt, relief, anxiety, feeling numb or detached.


Cognitive symptoms

Difficulty concentrating, wandering aimlessly without remembering what you were doing, feeling confused, loss of interest in spending time with others.


Spiritual symptoms

Questioning the meaning of life, feeling angry at God, feeling hopeless about the future.



These symptoms, though scary, are natural and normal responses to grief. Grief is not a mental illness but many have found it helpful to talk with a counselor about what they are experiencing.


How long does it take to get over the death of a loved one?

People do not “get over” the death of a loved one. It is more descriptive to say that people “adjust” to life without their loved one. Getting over it implies the relationship is over, but with death, the relationship does not really end, it just changes. For example, my grandmother died over ten years ago and my family continues to tell stories about her keeping her memory alive within us. We maintain our relationship with her by telling stories. Anyone who really wants to get to know me must at some time learn about my relationship with my grandma.


So, "How long does it take to adjust to life after the death of a loved one?" This is like asking how high is up. It depends on many factors and the answer is “It takes as long as it takes." Some people mourn for months and some for years. The pain of losing someone close is different for each individual because no two relationships are alike.


If you would like more information about the death of a loved one or how to help someone who has experienced the death of a loved one check out some of the online resources listed here

How can I help someone who is grieving?

Often we feel uncomfortable around a person who is grieving because we don’t know what to say or do. Here are some tips on appropriate ways to help.


  1. Call often. Do not expect them to have the energy to call you.
  2. Offer specific forms of help rather than asking “Is there anything I can do?” If your friend is a fellow student, you might suggest you do laundry together one night a week. You could also offer to clean, cook or go shopping for your friend.
  3. Use the name of the deceased in conversation. It is music to the ears and reminds them that their loved one is not forgotten.
  4. Avoid clichés such as “He is in a better place” or “God will not give you more than you can handle." These minimize the loss and often make the bereaved feel angry.
  5. Send a card on special occasions such as the anniversary of the death, holidays and birthdays of the deceased. This is a nice reminder that their loved one is not forgotten.
  6. Listen and be present when your friend wants to talk. You don’t have to say anything. Your presence is enough.
  7. Often people who are bereaved need to tell their story over and over again as they try to make sense out of what has happened in their life. Be willing to listen and be nonjudgmental.
  8. Encourage the bereaved to go slowly and not make major decisions in life such as moving or getting rid of objects. People do not move more quickly through grief by getting rid of things that remind them of their loved one.
  9. Allow the expression of emotions. Encourage the bereaved when they are crying with statements such as “It is good to cry” or “Crying helps let the pain out."



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