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Medically reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD

Grief is the deep sadness and loss you feel when someone you love dies.

The death of a loved one can mean a big change in your life. It takes time to cope with your loss and find ways to adapt. Comfort and support from others can help as you go through grief.

How Does Grief Affect You?

How grief affects you can depend on how close you felt to the person who died. It can depend on the role the person had in your life. For example, the death of a parent, child, sibling, grandparent, or a very close friend can be much harder than the death of someone you didn’t know well.

How grief affects you also can depend on how the person died. Grief can be more intense if the loss was sudden, if the person died in a way that was violent, or if they died by suicide. When a person loses a loved one like this, they may need extra support to heal.

Often, grief is most intense soon after someone has died. But some people don't feel their grief right away. They may feel numbness, shock, or disbelief. That’s OK too. It can take time for it to sink in that the person is gone.

If you’re going through grief, you might notice how:

Grief affects your feelings.

You’re likely to have many different feelings. And how you feel may change from day to day. At times, you might feel sadness, anger, anxiety, guilt, or despair. At other times, you might feel relief, love, gratitude, tenderness, or hope.

  • Try to be aware of your feelings and how they come and go. Try to accept how you feel instead of thinking you should feel a different way. It can help to share how you feel with someone you trust. It can also help to notice any good things that happen during times of sadness and loss — even the little things.

Grief affects your thoughts.

You might reflect on times you shared with your loved one. You might have worries or regrets — or think of things you wish you’d said or done. You might think about what life will be like without the person. You might think about what the person meant to you.

  • Notice the thoughts that come and go. It can help to share what’s on your mind. You could express some of your thoughts and feelings in a journal or write a letter to the person who died. This can be a way to express what they meant to you, say things you wish you’d said, or thank them for being in your life. Give yourself time to think and reflect — but give yourself a break when you need it.

Grief affects your body.

Grief can affect your appetite or sleep. You might feel tired and have less energy than usual. Or you might feel more restless. You might find it hard to relax, or hard to concentrate. You might feel a "heaviness" in your chest, a "tightness" in your throat, or a "pit" in your stomach. Losing a loved one can be stressful. And stress can have some of these temporary effects on your body.

  • Notice how grief affects your body. Try to get the rest, food, and exercise that you need. It can help to try practices like mindful breathing.

Grief can lead you to ask big questions.

Many people wonder, "Why did this happen?" "What happens to people when they die?" and "How can I cope?" Some people question their religious beliefs. Some find strength in their faith. Some discover spiritual connections. Some become closer to people in their life.

  • Asking big questions is a chance to get new insights. Grief can lead you to find new meaning and purpose. It can prompt you to think about how to make the most of your life, and about what matters most to you. Some people find it helpful to reflect on or write about these things in a journal.

How Long Does Grief Last?

There’s no set timeline for grief. It’s OK to feel grief for weeks, months, or much longer.

Often, in the first few days or weeks after someone dies, people gather to comfort and support each other. They have funerals or memorial services. They spend time together talking and sharing memories about their loved one. They might bring food, send cards, or stop by to visit.

When people go back to normal activities, they might think they should be over their grief. But for a while, they may find that it’s hard to put their heart into everyday things. Although they may not talk about their loss as much, they still feel grief.

Grief changes — and feels less intense — as time goes on. Many people say they feel grief in "waves" that come and go. At times, reminders of a loved one can cause a strong wave of grief. At other times, grief fades to the background of their normal activities and may not be on their mind all the time.

When Will I Start to Feel Better?

If someone you love has died, it's natural to keep having feelings and questions for a while. It's also natural to begin to feel a bit better. Feeling better usually happens gradually.

How much grief you feel — or how long it lasts — isn't a measure of how much you loved the person. Feeling better doesn’t mean forgetting your loved one or getting over them.

As your grief fades, you may come to realize that the person you love remains with you — in your heart, in your thoughts and memories, and in the positive effect they had on your life.

Medically reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: September 2022