How to cope with the loss of a loved one

Published: December 11, 2013

A youth mourns the death of a loved one killed in a plane crash. PHOTO: REUTERS

A youth mourns the death of a loved one killed in a plane crash. PHOTO: REUTERS A woman crying on her son's coffin after a tragic factory fire. PHOTO: AFP

I feel so dazed and numb, like this is all happening in a movie and not in my life. I feel guilty for feeling relieved that she is gone, as I could not bear to see her go through so much physical pain. I feel like I lost a part of my identity and support. Everything around me reminds me of my mother as if she will suddenly appear from the next room.

Why do bad things always happen to me and my family? Can’t God give us a break? Why do people leave us when we want them the most?

Why did my child have to go before me? There was so much he had to do and see in this world.

Life is so unfair.

Almost all of us have experienced these feelings of shock, numbness, guilt, anger, sadness and fear after losing a loved one. These are natural and normal reactions and are a part of the grieving process. People grieve differently depending upon different coping styles, general outlook on life and other stressors being experienced. In addition, the closer and strongly associated a person is with someone, the greater the grief.

Here are a few things that you need to know about grief in order to cope better with your loss or help a friend and loved one cope:

Some of you may have heard of the five popular stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptanceHowever, not everyone goes through all these stages and that too in any particular order.

More than understanding these stages, it is important to understand that the grief and feelings associated with it are more intense right after the loss and is experienced almost all the time. Gradually they start to lose their intensity and may not affect every moment of a person’s life.

Remind yourself that there is no hard and fast rule to how much time a person would take to grieve and how intense their reactions would be. The loss someone experiences is personal and thus grief cannot be generalised.

Everyone does not grieve the same way and similarly everyone does not cope the same way.

Telling someone how they should and should not be feeling does not help. The anger, guilt, sadness and fear is temporary for most and goes away with time. You don’t need to tell them not to feel this way.

Sharing your thoughts and feelings with family and friends who understand you can be the most helpful way of coping with loss. Most people have the need to share the details of the illness/event that led to the death etcetera. People also find it helpful to share memories of their times spent with the person who has departed.

Let your loved ones talk, without interrupting or asking for more details. Listening can be the most useful support that you can give to someone who is grieving.

Avoid blocking your feelings by not talking about them or by keeping yourself busy with other things right after. This does not help you grieve faster.

Men, often due to socialisation and the need to appear strong, find it difficult to open up and share their feelings. Remember that they need to grieve as much as women do. Very young children also grieve. Not talking to children about the loss of a loved one or shielding them away leaves them more confused. Allow them the space to ask questions and let them share their fears and concerns.

Find peace and comfort in your faith. Religious and spiritual beliefs help people find deeper meaning to death and the loss.

Take care of your physical health by eating healthy, exercising and getting enough sleep.

Gradually normalise your routine by doing things that you were previously doing.

Getting back into things that bring to you a sense of purpose can be an extremely useful way of coping. Forming a routine for grieving children or continuing with the former one, also helps bring normalcy to children’s lives. Letting the children know that they would be taken care of after they lose a parent or caregiver, is essential.

Seek professional support, if you:

  • feel that the intensity of the feelings is not decreasing with time,
  • feel too depressed to do anything,
  • feel numb or worthless,
  • blame yourself in some way for the loss,
  • have difficulty sharing with others or maintaining relationships

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

There are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew you and let you to move on. The goal of grieving is not to eradicate all the pain or the memories of the loss, but for you to cherish and remember the memories of your loved one and use those memories to move on, while understanding the universal rule of life that,

‘Nothing is permanent, not even us’.

As John Green said in his novel, The Fault in Our Stars,

“Grief does not change you. It reveals you.”

Zehra Kamal Alam

Zehra Kamal Alam

An Islamabad based practising Clinical Psychologist with 16 years of experience working with children and adults especially on trauma and violence related issues. She also works freelance in the development sector and tweets as @zehrakamal (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Supriya Arcot

    Hmm TALK is something which distributes ( divides / spreads ) the unhappiness and multiplies the happiness. When I lost my mum we were more relived as she died after a long illness ( gangrene ) . A decade later, we still miss her . Most of our rituals ( whatever religion we belong to ) are made for this purpose ( to lighten our burden ) . During her funeral we met hundreds of our relatives who had come for this purpose . It was their way of showing solidarity towards our family and it helped.Recommend

  • mokh

    AS stated their is no hard and fast time to the length of grieving.However I have found that it takes roughly two years to overcome the most stressful time of grief and for normal daily functioning to resume properlyRecommend

  • Falcon

    Thanks for the piece. I lost my father recently. I can certainly relate to everything you have mentioned here. My experience has been that spiritual beliefs are very helpful as coping mechanism. To know that the loved one’s soul is out there in some part of the universe and in peace (though not accessible) gives a sense of comfort. Just like love is immortal, so are the people who have been loved. Its just that the definition of life changes.Recommend

  • Usman qazi

    It is so amazing how beautifully you’ve summed up such a big issue or rather taught me to control my feelings. Holding a grief kills you from inside. As Paulo Coehlo said ‘ trying not to think about loved ones donot help, think about them as much you can and some one point your mind will get tired of such thoughts’. What really caught my attention was the quote from john green at the end (Y).
    The marks human leave are too often scarsRecommend

  • Parvez

    Articles like this are extremely informative………but the feeling I get is that no matter how much I read on this subject it will not really prepare me for the moment when it comes and then it will be a different story directed by the circumstances at hand.Recommend

  • Iftikhar Ali

    Only know you love her
    when you let her go

  • Iftikhar Ali

    I’ve got my ticket for the long way ’round
    Two bottle whiskey for the way
    And I sure would like some sweet company
    And I’m leaving tomorrow what-do-ya say?

    When I’m gone, When I’m gone
    You’re ‘gonna miss me when I’m gone
    You’re gonna miss me by my hair
    You’re gonna miss me everywhere, Oh
    You’re ‘gonna miss me when I’m gone

    I’ve got my ticket for the long way ’round
    The one with the prettiest of views
    It’s got mountains, it’s got rivers
    It’s got sights to give you shivers
    But it sure would be prettier with you

    When I’m gone, When I’m gone
    You’re ‘gonna miss me when I’m gone
    You’re ‘gonna miss me by my walk
    You’re gonna miss me by my talk, Oh
    You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone

  • Kublai

    I hope, that you will write an article on schizophrenia. It is basically the
    brain producing a certain hormone in excess. In some people.
    It starts in early teens. When the body is growing an turning into adults.
    Due to excess production of this hormone, the brain works in overdrive.
    Causes depression. In some cases,severe depression.

    People hear voices, are paranoid, thinks nobody likes them. Everybody
    hates them. Mental state is very fragile. Sometimes resulting in suicide.
    You hear a young person committed suicide,might be due to schizophrenia.
    It can be treated with medications. And the patients can lead normal productive

  • Zen

    I lost my father this year. It made me dead from the inside and I had an expressionless face for months. Then I started to cope uo with it. Everyone has to leave one day remember, so lets not spend nights crying for them. Instead pray for them.
    I see him quite often in my dreams. He is happy there and keeps telling me to stay calm. I love him and I miss him a lot..
    The fact is, no matter how hard I try to not let my emotions take over me, I end up crying nonstop for hours.. Somethings you just cant deal with..Recommend

  • Saad

    Tragedy of the nature mentioned above helps to understand the temporary nature of this world, this is the time you need to give yourself a break and give a thought as to the purpose of this life, Fall in a love that stays forever. A hope that does-not go away, no not even after death, fall in such a love :)Recommend

  • x

    True. Grief has no ‘stages’, It’s all stages rolled into one and occurring and re-occurring. Some losses are too great to completely heal from but you learn to count your blessings in this world, remember the good memories with the departed and let the daily life with its little joys, troubles, activities and work to occupy you. As they say, life goes on. :)Recommend

  • Misha Khan

    The hardest thing is to be on the outside. When you were really close to someone but were never introduced to anyone else close to them. In these cases you don’t have anyone to talk about them with, no one who really understands the loss. It leaves you feeling terribly alone.Recommend

  • Saad

    Wound is the place where the light enters you..Jalauddin al rumiRecommend

  • aeronaut sadiq

    i can very well relate to the blog above.i lost my wife and one and half year old son in the bhoja plane crash.Recommend

  • Mubeen

    nicely articulated! the only solution i see is not to get closer to anyone. keep the distance! no one gets out aliveRecommend

  • Khuram

    This article reflects the feelings of a westernised person perhaps not familiar with how our religion provides relief to a grieving person. I do believe that she did not have to go through any grieving situation like loss of a dear one. Well I did. Our son ,an only child left for his heavenly abode in his thirties. I and my wife are proud of the send off we gave him to the surprise of many. There was no whaling and chest beating when we picked him to take to the graveyard. Inside the mother was suffering the way a mother does but she never exhibited any anger or ‘why us’ etc. This was possible because she and I are fairly well familiar with our religion, Islam. One example you will find in the following link. TO MUAZ BIN JABAL (R.A.A.).May Allah SWT keep you safe from any such grief. AmeenRecommend

  • Qaiser Habib

    Quran Chapter 47 ”
    11. That is because God is the Master of those who believe, while the disbelievers have no master.
    12. God will admit those who believe and do good deeds into gardens beneath which rivers flow. As for those who disbelieve, they enjoy themselves, and eat as
    cattle eat, and the Fire will be their dwelling.
    13. How many a town was more powerful than your town which evicted you? We destroyed them, and there was no helper for them.
    14. Is he who stands upon evidence from his Lord, like someone whose evil deed is made to appear good to him? And they follow their own desires?”Recommend