Every human being goes through seasons of loss due to the death of a loved one. Since death is inevitable, learning how to cope during the season of loss is important. Seasons of grief are difficult for both individuals who are mourning and those who take the role of supporting those grieving

One concern I get from people is what to say to a person who is grieving, how to behave around persons who are grieving, what they can do to help, and whether or not to answer the questions. Some even wonder if it is best to wait until the individuals in grief cope better before visiting them.

A friend narrated how they had it rough when they went to support a friend who had lost a brother. The deceased had been murdered. The grieving sister was so angry that she stood at the gate to ask anyone who was coming to condole with her to leave. My friend left but she was so confused. She wondered whether leaving was the right thing to do.

There are cases where the support network does not know what to do with the anger that the survivor is expressing. Other times the survivor is overwhelmed with their own anger. In such instances, it is okay for both to know that anger is a normal emotion when grieving and the only thing they need to do is learn healthy ways of expressing or supporting someone at this anger stage.

When a grieving person asks a friend to leave or shares that they do not want to be visited, it is okay to respect their privacy and not visit or just leave in case you had visited. As you leave, assure the person grieving that you are available should they need you.

In another instance, a grieving friend begged us to stay for the remaining three nights with her just to support her before she buried her parent. This was not possible clearly because we all had jobs and families to go back to. She simply could not understand how she was dealing with so much pain while we went on with our normal business.

This is another common phenomenon. In the grieving person’s mind, the world should stop enjoying life until the survivor is fine. Fun and laughter offend some people simply because they are doing intense grieving.

So what is grief? This is the emotional experience following a loss. Mourning is the process of expressing grief.

The people grieving doubt if their experiences are normal or abnormal while the people offering support are not sure of what to call normal. This causes confusion both to the person grieving and those supporting them. Many of the clients I have walked through grief keep hoping that they are not going crazy.

What are some of the normal behavioral and emotional responses to loss?

  1. Bodily distress which may include headaches, running stomach, unexplained pain
  2. Feelings of guilt because they could not do enough to save the deceased.
  3. Preoccupation with the thoughts and image of the deceased.
  4. Dreaming with the deceased – dreams point the grieving point to how far they have come as far as the grieving journey is concerned.
  5. Emptiness and hollowness.
  6. Blaming self or others for what the person grieving feels was not done and if it were done, the deceased would be alive.
  7. A sense of loneliness makes the survivor not feel safe anywhere.
  8. Feeling fatigued, tired all the time, and struggling to accomplish small tasks.
  9. In cases where the deceased had been sick and in pain, the grieving person may feel some level of relief.
  10. Struggling with thoughts of continuing what the deceased had started.
  11. Tightness in the chest, throat and sometimes the stomach.
  12. Weakness in the muscles, lack of energy and dry mouth.
  13. Not understanding why people are happy and getting offended by those celebrating while you are grieving.
  14. Sense of presence of the deceased or the fear that they will show up at night or when you are alone.
  15. Emotional eating is done by eating junk and too much sugar.
  16. Holding onto the objects that belonged to the deceased.
  17. Changes in sleep patterns.
  18. Keeping off social setups.
  19. When the death is by suicide or murder, shame and more blame are involved. The people grieving are engrossed with thoughts of what they should have seen, understood or done to avoid the death.

These are indicators that you may need grief therapy to deal with the death of a loved one

  1. Inability to function daily for many months post-death- functioning at lower levels is normal and acceptable however struggling to do basic things is an indicator that one needs help.
  2. Panic attacks anytime the survivor remembers the deceased, hospitalization journey or death.
  3. Extreme anxiety over the incoming phone especially when news of death were shared through the phone.
  4. Unending blame around what the survivor did not do or what they imagine they needed to do to save the deceased.
  5. Inability to get back to the social circles that the survivor enjoyed before the death of their loved one.
  6. If the survivor has suicidal thoughts or ideations.
  7. Is very angry towards people one imagines caused the death that they have a plan to revenge by hurting those particular people.
  8. If the survivor has been waiting for the deceased to come back home and is actively doing certain things to wait on them. An example is, they still serve the deceased food and place it in a place where they kept food for the deceased while he lived, or when
  9. they continue to ask everyone to vacate the seat that the deceased sat on.


Areas of concern for the survivor after the loss of a loved one.

  1. What to do with the siblings. This is more for the firstborn or for the child who had been the support financially and emotionally for the child. This becomes a burden if one sibling is doing well in life and others were dependent on the deceased for survival.
  2. There are concerns about who takes the roles that the deceased was taking and these roles are even harder if there are incomplete projects or continuing responsibilities over vulnerable members of the family.
  3. If it is fair to be happy and enjoy life shortly after the death of a loved one. This one happens mostly happens if the survivor grieves the deceased within a short time and is able to begin to enjoy life. Sometimes these survivors question their love for the deceased.
  4. Where the family had no cohesion, different members of the family get concerned about how the family will plan the way forward without proper interaction.
  5. Fear of societal stigma when a loved one died by suicide.


By Joan Kirera – Family Therapist. For more visit Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera