How Death Affects Us And What We Can Do

| Grief Author and Speaker

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How Death Affects Us And What We Can DoDeath is inevitable, irreversible, universal, and always unpredictable.  Accepting this, you would think everyone would be equipped with first hand knowledge on how to deal with a death that invades your family circle.  If you were to think that, then you would think wrong!

When you were in those first twelve years of school, were you offered a subject titled grief?  No.  You didn’t have the subject of grief sandwiched between math and English.  When death claimed a schoolmate, did anyone come in to talk with you about the death?  No.  Schools have only been bringing in professionals in the last few years.  When a death invaded your family circle, did someone sit down and explain how the family dynamics would now change?  No.  It is simply amazing that something that is as much a part of life as birth, we avoid discussing at all possible costs.  It is no wonder we are so unprepared for the emotions and changes grief brings into our lives.

Grief Affects Three Areas:


When we first are paralyzed by grief, we become numb and everything seems to be in slow motion.  We aren’t sure what is happening to us since our emotions are unpredictable.  Emotional symptoms may include:

  1. Confusion
  2. Memory loss
  3. Irritability
  4. Depression
  5. Crying
  6. Bouts of weeping
  7. Anger
  8. Panic
  9. Emotional numbness and shock
  10. Unwanted memories and/or nightmares
  11. Self blame
  12. Fear
  13. Resentment
  14. Guilt
  15. Helplessness
  16. Loneliness
  17. Sadness
  18. Lack of concentration
  19. Preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased


Grief throws a punch to our gut.  Many chemical changes take place in the body when we are under duress.  Some physical symptoms may include:

  1. Stomach aches
  2. Trouble swallowing
  3. Headaches
  4. Tight neck and shoulder muscles
  5. Difficulty sleeping
  6. General body aches and pains
  7. Racing heartbeat
  8. Nausea
  9. Changes in appetite
  10. Nervousness
  11. Fatigue
  12. Difficulty breathing
  13. Dry mouth
  14. Chest pain
  15. Skin rashes
  16. Muscle weakness

Spiritual or Philosophical.

As logical creatures that love control we are always trying to connect the dots to make sense of something.  When we look at a picture of a little boy playing a violin.  We all will agree that a little boy is playing a violin.  We may have different perception as to the little boy’s thoughts.  Some might think he is sad about playing the violin and others may think he is very contented.  Still we agree on what we see so we can make sense of what the painting is about.  When a loved one dies, we try to connect the dots and figure out the how’s and why’s.  If there has been an accident, we need to figure out how it happened.  What caused the accident?  We want to figure everything out to the last detail.  When being forced to accept the death of a person we love, there really is no connecting of the dots.  We have to accept that we can not be God and we too will die one day.  Some spiritual or philosophical  symptoms may include:

  1. Problems in relationships with friends, at work, and at home
  2. Showing distrust of others
  3. Being very controlling
  4. Irritability
  5. Conflict
  6. Withdrawal
  7. Isolation
  8. Feeling rejected
  9. Feeling abandoned
  10. Being distant
  11. Being judgmental and accusatory

With grief affecting us emotionally, physically, and spiritually it is already monumental.  The way we grieve has an enormous degree to do with the variables or factors that make each of us a unique individual.

Some of those variables are:

  • Gender.  Males and females have a tendency to grieve differently.  Or let me say this, men and women appear to grieve differently due to the differences in the openness with which they express their grief.  Most women reach out to others for help.  Women have more of a need to talk about every detail many times over.  Women more easily openly cry.  Men have tendency to engage in activities that will honor their pain.  Many men have a difficult time asking for help.  Men have a tendency to see the overall situation rather than focus in on details of the death.  Men are more likely to grieve privately. Even though there are differences in the outward approach to the grief, men and women feel the same level of pain.
  • Family support.  Families that communicate their attitudes about death and openly encourage communication offer a good solid foundation of support.  Some families do not have a foundation of much if any support for open communication.  Sometimes family patterns are handed down from one generation to the next. 
  • Your physical and metal health at the time of the death of your loved one.  Are you in good physical health at the time of the loss or are you in a physical condition where you require help? 
  • Your age and level of maturity at the time of the death of your loved one.
  • The relationship with the deceased.  What kind of relationship did you have at the time of the death?  What was the overall relationship like?
  • How prepared were you for the death?  Was the death sudden or was it a long illness? 
  • The nature of the death.  Was it from natural causes or was it violent?
  • Your perception of the suffering of the loved one at the time of death.
  • Your culture, spirituality and religious beliefs and practices.
  • The meaning of the lost relationship
  • Other stressful situations happening at the time of the death
  • Your past experience with loss
  • Your financial condition

With grief impacting every area of our being and with so many variables defining the uniqueness of each person’s grief, no wonder grief feels like an emotional bottomless pit.

There are some things you can do to help yourself work through some of the roadblocks along the way.  The following suggestions may help:

  1. Rest.  Grief is emotionally and physically exhausting.  You may need more rest than usual.  Allow yourself to the time to recuperate by taking time out and calming the mind.
  2. Consult your doctor about physical symptoms or depression.
  3. Know your vulnerabilities. 
  4. Try to ask “how” instead of “why”.
  5. Re-establish relationships with others. 
  6. Prioritize what needs to be done.
  7. Avoid alcohol as well as too much caffeine.
  8. Eat a balanced diet.
  9. Try to get some mild exercise every day.
  10. Don’t make major life decisions without consulting someone you trust.
  11. Don’t set difficult goals for yourself.
  12. Don’t increase your responsibilities.
  13. Try relaxation techniques.
  14. Shout, scream, or hit pillows to release anguish
  15. Try to distinguish between your sadness and depression.
  16. Seek encouragement from family and friends.
  17. Seek professional help or support groups.
  18. Stay in the moment. 
  19. So something special for yourself every day.
  20. Read inspirational or self help information and books
  21. Write letters to your lost loved one.
  22. Start a journal.
  23. Start a memory album collecting memories and pictures of the deceased.
  24. Meditation and prayer help many people.

Most of all be patient with yourself.  Sometimes it is simply too difficult to think about the next hour much less the next day or month.  Expressing in words what you feel will help other people around you and it will help release stress.

In a grief workshop I was giving, one lady asked to share what had helped her the most in her grief.  It was so simple yet so profound.  She said she received a card from a trusted friend who had suffered a loss of a loved one a year earlier.  A plain card with a smile drawn on the outside and written on the inside were the following statements, “It will get better.  You will survive.”

Only you know what will work for you.  Only you know what you can handle.  Find the things and the course you need to take that will help you.  Once you commit yourself to finding how to cope rather than why this happened, you will move towards reconciling your grief.


Copyright Sherry Russell 2003


| Grief Author and Speaker

Sherry Russell has worked in Grief and Crisis Management for over twenty years. She is the originator of a series of educational Grief and Trauma Workshops(R) which are currently being utilized in Funeral Hom...