Grief & Loss

Each of us will face the death of a loved one at some time in our lives. As adults, we seek help
from family, friends, and outside supports during the grief process. But who helps a young person cope
with the death of a loved one? Young people naturally turn to other significant persons in their life
for support. Although children may understand and respond to illness and death differently
than adults, helping a grieving child is not that different from helping a grieving adult. As a
clinician, your interaction can have an important impact on helping a child deal with a loved
one‟s illness and death in a healthy way.

Common Characteristics of Grief

Physical Sensations


Thought Patterns

  • Hollowness in the stomach
  • Tightness in the chest and throat
  • Dry mouth
  • Oversensitivity to noise
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness in the muscles, lack of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Excess of nervous energy heart pounding
  • Heavy or empty feeling in body and limbs
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Stomach & intestinal upsets
  • Increase in physical illnesses
  • Shock
  • Numbness
  • Sense of unreality
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Vulnerability
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness
  • Relief
  • Feelings of being crazy
  • Mood swings
  • Intensity of all feelings
  • Disbelief
  • Preoccupation
  • Confusion
  • Lack of ability to concentrate
  • Seeing, hearing, feeling the presence of the deceased
  • Thoughts of self-destruction
  • Problems with decision-making


Social Changes

What have you experienced?

  • Appetite and sleep disturbances
  • Absent-minded behavior
  • Social withdrawal
  • Avoiding reminders of the loss
  • Dreams of the loss
  • Searching and calling out for the deceased
  • Restlessness
  • Sighing
  • Crying
  • Visiting places that are reminders of the loss
  • Treasuring
  • Carrying objects that belong to the deceased
  • Change in sexual activities
  • Need for touch, hugs, or contact with others
  • Increased sensitivity to positive and negative attention
  • Picking up mannerisms of the deceased
  • Exhibiting symptoms of the deceased’s illness
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Increased dependency on others
  • A need for acting “normal” around others
  • A need for relationships apart from those related to grief
  • Self-absorbed (no energy for interest in others)
  • Marital difficulties
  • Family role changes
  • Role reversals
  • Change in social patterns and status
  • Hypersensitivity to topics of loss
  • Need for rituals

 Fulton School Counsellors
are hear to listen!

Dave MacKenzie

Charlene Lau


Talking to your Children

You may find it challenging to share difficult information with your children if a significant person has been diagnosed with a serious illness or has died.

It is normal to

  • Want to protect your children
  • Worry about how they will be affected by your emotions
  • Be concerned about the effect of the illness on them
  • Be unsure of their ability to understand what’s happening
  • Receive mixed advice from others

However, without good information, your children may…

  • Sense or know that something has changed.
  • Interpret body language, stress & tone of voice
  • Become concerned or anxious
  • Overhear confusing conversations
  • Imagine a situation to be different than it actually is

Suggestions for Helping Yourself through Grief

Treating yourself with care and affection is important in your journey through grief. Below is a list of suggestions that may be helpful to you.

Be Gentle with Yourself
Don’t rush. Be patient—healing takes time. Don’t have unrealistic expectations.

Accept Your Feelings
Allow yourself to feel the emotions that arise. It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to cry or feel depressed. It’s even OK to feel a sense of relief about the death. These feelings are a natural part of grief.

Identify Your Support System
Finding people who are supportive to you can be a comfort. Calling upon them is a step toward caring for yourself.

Share Your Grief
Express your feelings to others who can support you. Don’t hide your emotions for those who care. Sharing your grief can be a relief.

Be Attentive to Your Physical Needs
Be sure that your body is nurtured by getting properly balanced meals, adequate sleep and exercise each day.

Limit Alcohol and Drugs
They cannot cure grief. They can prolong, delay and complicate your grief. Remember that any substance that “numbs” challenging emotions also “numbs” positive ones.

Be Attentive to Your Emotional Needs
Acknowledge and applaud yourself for making it through each day. Discover the simple things that you can do to nurture yourself.

Give Permission to Change Your Routine
Although major life changes should be avoided, giving yourself permission to change the little reminders of your lost relationship can aid you in the grief process. Changing the furniture around in the house, the schedule of when you have meals or go to bed, or the place where you eat or shop can all be small steps toward building a new life.

Identify Your Trouble Spots
Birthdays, anniversaries, special holidays, and even at certain times of ordinary days, maybe difficult to get through. Special places may also be uncomfortable reminders for you. Knowing what times and places create discomfort for you allows you to plan ahead to face them. Giving yourself permission to feel the feelings is easier than trying to pretend the hurt is not there.

Adpated from Province Health & Services Washington, Safe Crossings Program
Additional links from Safe Crossing Program