Cope with a Loss: When a Loved One is at the End of Life

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After a significant death or loss, you may experience feelings that are unfamiliar in their intensity and duration. You may notice thoughts and behavior that are different or disturbing. Many people experience a kind of spiritual crisis following a major loss. Anger is common, whether it’s directed toward a situation, a particular person, or life in general.

Grieving people may have unusual dreams, be absent-minded, withdraw socially, or lack the desire to participate in activities that used to be enjoyable. While these feelings and behaviors are normal during grief, they generally change over time. In general, grief makes room for a lot of thoughts, behaviors, feelings, and beliefs that might be considered unusual at other times. Following significant loss, however, most of these components of grief are, in fact, quite normal.

One method of dealing with grief is to be more aware of the ways we express it. Even the exact words we use (to ourselves and to others) can make a difference. For example, when we think, “I regret that I was not in the room when he died,” we’re less likely to wallow in the feeling than if we think, “I feel guilty that I was not in the room when he died.”

*Ways to Cope with Grief and Begin Healing*
Grieving people have two choices. The first choice is to try to avoid their grief and the emotions associated with their loss and continue on, hoping to forget. This is a risky choice, because when grief is ignored, it continues to cause distress.
The other choice is to acknowledge grief and seek healing and growth. Coping with and adjusting to loss is slow, hard work. As difficult as it may sound, it is healing to embrace your grief and give it the full attention and expression it demands. While a “stiff upper lip” at times of significant loss may seem admirable, it doesn’t serve the human need to express grief. It is essential to let yourself feel all the emotions that arise, as painful as they may be, and to treat yourself with patience and kindness.

*Grief Support*
Although it is common for people to want to find their own way through grief and avoid seeking help, grief support can make a remarkable difference. Experiencing the death of a loved one can overwhelm our ability to cope; some things are simply bigger than we are and require more resources than we have available.
It is a sign of strength to reach out for help and resources in times of need. Most people feel strengthened, encouraged, and supported when they learn about grief, understand how it affects them, identify coping strategies, and learn new methods to help themselves through the grief experience.

Content developed through a collaboration between AssistGuide Information Services (AGIS) and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. For more information or to learn more about related issues visit AGIS’s End of Life section at:

Posted in: Home Care, Hospice

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