Bereavement Answers

What do I say to a grieving friend?
Bereavement is a process. Friends can offer support and comfort, but there is no way to take away the pain from the person who has experienced the death of someone they love. Rather than worry about what to say to a grieving friend, friends should be receptive to the needs of the bereaved and offer assistance whenever possible.

After some time has passed, what should I do to continue to help?
Invite your friend to social occasions so they have the opportunity to meet new friends and get their mind off their loss. Plan new activities together so both of you have something to look forward to.

Holidays and anniversaries are the hardest times for people suffering from grief. Plan ahead and invite them to your home or make a visit to their home to wish them a happy holiday. Let them know that they have many friends and family members ready to help them through these difficult days.

Is grief ever dangerous for the person?
If a grieving person demonstrates any of these signs, they may need professional help. Communities, hospices, religious centers, funeral homes and healthcare organizations have grief counseling programs or support groups.

  • Weight loss
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Prolonged sleep disorders
  • Talk about suicide
  • Lack of personal hygiene

(Source: Hospice Net -
© 2004 Selected Independent Funeral Homes

What are the physical symptoms of Grief?

  • Sleeplessness
  • Dizziness
  • General malaise
  • Upset stomach
  • Heaviness in the chest
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Assuming the loved one’s mannerisms
  • Inability to finish simple jobs
  • Need to take care of others
  • Need to repeat memories of the loved one
  • Feeling the loved one’s presence
  • Unexpected crying spells


How long does grief last?
Because everyone is a unique, there is no single answer to this question. In most cases, the pain associated with grieving begins to subside considerably in the second and third years following loss. This means that there are more good days than bad ones; that the heavy, depressive feelings in earlier months begin to break up with more hopeful, optimistic feelings replacing them. Many bereavement authorities believe that most grief adjustments take between two and four years to complete.

What are the signs of grief?
On the emotional level, the bereaved person experiences some of the following: disbelief, shock, numbness, denial, sadness, anxiety, guilt, depression, anger, loneliness or frustration. The physical symptoms of grief can include tightness of the chest or throat, pain in the heart area, panic attacks, dizziness or trembling. There also may be sleep disturbance, as in either too much or not enough sleeping. All of these emotional and physical symptoms fall within the normal range of response to the loss of a loved one.

I feel like I am going crazy. Is this normal?
This is perfectly normal. Indeed, grief can be accurately described as a "crazy" time in one's life. In her book, Nobody's Child Anymore, Barbara Bartocci writes: "The important thing to realize about mourning is that it's normal to feel slightly crazy. You will forget things. You will drive your car as if on autopilot. You will stare at the papers on your desk and feel paralyzed to get any work done."

Bartocci offers this simple and practical advice: "This might be a good time to carry a small notebook with you. Write down things you need to remember. Don't rely on your memory. Let your boss know why you're not functioning at your usual one hundred percent. Be patient with yourself. Be as understanding of you during this time as you would like others to be."

Will I ever stop crying?
Even though it may be difficult to believe, the tears will come to an end. This will not happen abruptly but gradually, and even after the intense crying ceases, there may be times when hearing a favorite song or seeing a favored place will bring a moment of sadness along with a tear. Keep in mind that crying is healthy because it is an emotional and physical release. Writing centuries earlier, Shakespeare had it right: "To weep is to make less the depth of grief."

Do all people grieve in the same way?
While many aspects of grieving are universal —feelings of sadness, numbness, confusion, depression — there is no single prescribed way to grieve. Grieving is an individual endeavor. Some persons want to have many people around with whom they can share and explore their feelings. Others prefer to deal with loss more privately. Most people report that grieving is much like being on an emotional roller coaster. It is worth noting that we should respect each other's method of coping.

Do men and women grieve differently?
Bereavement styles have less to do with gender and more to do with basic personality traits. Grieve in ways that are most helpful and healing for you.

How can I cope with the holidays?
It is not only holidays that are difficult because there is an "empty chair," but also anniversaries, birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day and so on. Here are some effective ways to manage these special days:

  • Plan ahead. How will you spend the day? With whom?
  • Talk about your deceased loved one. This will let others know that you want to hear his/her name and to talk about that person.
  • Establish personal priorities. Decide what you want to do, how you wish to celebrate, and with whom you wish to spend time.
  • Follow your instincts.
  • Express your feelings. If the holidays make you weepier, then cry. If you feel the need to talk about the loss, then find a good friend who will listen.
  • Value your memories. You loved, and the price of losing a loved one is pain. Cherish the time you had together and value your precious memories, which can never be taken away from you.
  • Reach out to others. Take the focus off yourself and your pain by volunteering to help others.
  • Avoid isolating yourself in grief. Just because you are in pain, do not cut yourself off from others. Stay in touch. Keep communication open with family, friends and colleagues. Accept invitations for social events, even if you do not feel like it.
  • Be patient with yourself. A loss to death inflicts a deep wound but the wound will heal.

I feel very angry. Why is this and what can I do with the anger?
It is not unusual to feel angry. Sometimes the anger is directed at the deceased love one, sometimes toward other family members, sometimes at medical staff, or sometimes toward God. The anger will subside, but you can take the edge off it through exercise, hard physical activity, such as housework or gardening, and by talking about the angry feelings.

What helps the grieving process?
Even though grief-stricken persons often feel helpless, there are important steps and actions they can take to make the grieving process flow more smoothly and toward a more rapid resolution. Here are some ways to cope with the pain of loss:

  • Seek out supportive people. Find a relative, friend, neighbor or spiritual leader who will listen non- judgmentally and provide you with support as you sort your way through grief.
  • Join a support group. Being with others who have had a similar loss is therapeutic.
  • Express your feelings. Do this by confiding in a trusted friend or by writing in a journal. Feelings expressed are often feelings diminished. Rabenhorst sponsors The Adult Bereavement Program, which is held at the Grief Recovery Center. It can be reached by e-mail,, or by calling 225/924-6621. We also have offered support to The Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center, which sponsors suicide survivor groups for family members of victims of suicide. For more information on the programs go to, or call Margo Abadie at 225/924-1431.
  • Take care of your health. Eat balanced, nutritious meals. Rest properly. Find an exercise you enjoy and do it regularly. If you have physical problems, consult with your physician promptly.
  • Find outside help when necessary. If your bereavement feels too heavy for you to bear, find a counselor or therapist trained in grief issues to offer you some guidance.

When is mourning finished?
Mourning is successfully completed when the "tasks" of grief are completed. In his book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, J. William Worden, Ph.D., identifies the four "tasks" of grieving:

  • To accept the reality of the loss;
  • To experience the pain of the grief;
  • To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing;
  • To withdraw emotional energy and reinvest it in another relationship.

For those who seek a clear sign that their grieving is coming to completion, Dr. Worden offers this insight: "One benchmark of a completed grief reaction is when the person is able to think of the deceased without pain. There is always a sense of sadness when you think of someone that you have loved and lost, but it is a different kind of sadness — it lacks the wrenching quality it previously had. One can think of the deceased without physical manifestations such as intense crying or feeling a tightness in the chest. Also, mourning is finished when a person can reinvest his or her emotions back into life and in the living."

Victor M. Parachin, Tulsa, OK, is a NFDA grief educator and minister. Send comments and questions to

Should children attend funerals?
Every child is different and each family must decide what is best for the child. Attending the funeral allows the child to be a part of the family at a time when they need love and attention the most. If the child is leery of the funeral, perhaps you can arrange a private moment before or after the service for the child to say goodbye. The important thing is that the child is with friends and family and not isolated from the situation.

Do children need an advance explanation of what to expect at a funeral?
Learning what to expect at the funeral is very reassuring for children. Be honest and clear when explaining the details.

Remember, children take things very literally so try not to use euphemisms in your explanations. For young children, simple statements are sufficient. For example, explanations like a funeral is a way to say “goodbye” or a casket is a nice box that holds the body, will help them understand.

Should children see their parents and/or family grieving?
Yes. Children learn how to express their own feelings by example. If a child is able to witness important adults in their life openly grieving, then they too will be able to express their feelings of loss. Sharing how they feel is often an essential part of the healing process.

Source for information on grief and children:
Copyright © 2002-2003 National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA)