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Dealing with Sadness or Grief after a Loss

It’s hard to lose someone or something you care about. This is true even if you think you’re prepared. Feeling sadness, anger, anxiety or grief after a loss is something most people experience in life. However, reactions to loss can vary a great deal from person to person.

Knowing a little moreabout types of loss and common reactions can help.It’s also important to know how to take care of yourself in times of grief. Sometimes, the very process of reaching outand telling others what you need can be helpful inand of itself. Grief is personal. Below is some information that can help you while going through a loss.

Common losses people grieve

People grieve for many different reasons. Some examples of these include loss of:

  • A loved one
  • A pet
  • A beloved public figure, leader or mentor
  • A life role, such as a career change (e.g., transitioning out of the military)
  • Physical ability
  • Relationship due to divorce or separation
  • Home, neighborhood or friends when moving
  • Life’s potential and dreams
  • Possessions
  • Belief in a person, idea or cause

For Veterans grief may come from loss of:

  • A military comrade who died in battle (Veterans may also experience survivor guilt-a sense of remorse for having survived when others did not.)
  • Sense of closeness that was had with fellow service members
  • Identity as a member of the armed forces
  • Physical ability (e.g., disability acquired during service, traumatic brain injury, etc.)
  • Mental health (e.g., PTSD, loss of sense of safety)

Expressions of grief

Grief is personal. Everyone responds differently to loss. Some people show grief in a way that can be seen and felt by people around them. Others do not. It’s important not to assume that something is wrong if you or someone you know doesn’t outwardly mourn. It simply means the loss is being handled in a different way.

You might experience some of these common reactions:

  • Physical: stomachache or headache, pain around the heart area, insomnia, fatigue, dizziness, trembling, panic attacks
  • Emotional: shock, disbelief, numbness, anxiety, confusion, frustration, depression, guilt, loneliness, anger, detachment
  • Behavioral: crying, pacing, staring, forgetting things, loss of interest, poor focus, too much or too little sleep, isolating, obsessing over the loss, worrying about one’s own health
  • Spiritual: anger at God or a higher power, losing faith, finding faith, becoming more thoughtful or philosophical

Grief is a process

Feelings can come and go. You might find yourself denying the loss happened. At other times you might feel sadness or a range of other feelings. You might notice yourself feeling angry with the person for dying or leaving, angry at yourself, or angry at someone else.

You might have feelings of relief or moments of happiness. At times it can be hard to accept the loss and you might find yourself bargaining (“If only I…”).  It’s good to know there is no correct way to grieve. With time, most people find they are able to come to terms with their loss.

Self-care while grieving

Taking care of yourself can help you through the process of grieving. Here are some tips:

  • Let yourself grieve.
    Take time to experience the feelings that come with the loss.  Let emotions come and go. This emotional pain can be very hard, but it’s a basic part of healing.
  • Talk about your experience.
    People may not know what you’re going through. Talk to  people you trust, at work and home, and let them know how to support you. Find someone who will listen without judgment. This might be a family member or friend, a chaplain or other spiritual counselor, a therapist, a fellow Veteran or a support group.
  • Keep busy.
    Do purposeful work that is consistent with your values.
  • Exercise.
    Any bit of exercise can help, even just going for a short walk. Make a plan to get some form of exercise daily.
  • Eat well.
    During times of distress, your body needs good food more than ever. Good nutrition can help you feel better physically and emotionally.
  • Wait to make major decisions.
    Loss often involves unwanted or unexpected changes. Think about taking time to grieve before making major changes, such as selling your home or changing jobs. 
  • Record your thoughts in a journal.
    If you like to write, journaling can help. But if you find you feel worse after journaling, then stop and try another way of getting out your feelings.
  • Take advantage of your spiritual or religious beliefs.
    You may find it helpful to call upon your spiritual beliefs to cope with your loss. Prayer or services, for instance, may be helpful. You might consult with a chaplain or pastoral counselor.
  • Get professional help if needed.
    If you find that, over a period of time, your grief continues to interfere with your ability to move forward with your life, consider seeking help. Counseling through your EAP or other Veteran services may be available to you:
  • You likely have strategies that you have found helpful when you experienced a loss in the past. Utilize the strategies that work best for you.
These materials were developed by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) in collaboration with Aetna Inc. (“Aetna”). These materials may be reproduced for use within your practice. These materials do not constitute medical diagnostic or treatment advice and are intended only to supplement information generally available to health care professionals with more specific information about the unique attributes, needs and services available to Veterans. Health care providers (other than VA employees) using these materials are solely responsible for the health care they deliver to patients and shall not be deemed agents or employees of the VA or Aetna. These materials are not intended for use by the general public.