Articles 2017-06-21T13:54:02+00:00

Understanding Grief

Listed are some of the common reactions that may or may not be experienced. The intensity and duration varies from person to person, as no two people will grieve the same.


  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Fear
  • Fatigue
  • Relief
  • Shock
  • Yearning
  • Numbness
  • Apathy
  • Indifference
  • Resentment


  • Disbelief
  • Confusion
  • Preoccupation about your spouse
  • Hallucinations
  • Doubt own sanity
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Slowed thinking Absent minded, forgetful
  • Reliving the death, funeral etc
  • Awareness of own mortality
  • Idealize deceased
  • Unrealistic expectations of self or others

Physical Symptoms

  • Tightness in chest
  • Palpitations
  • Weakness or muscles
  • Dry mouth Lack of energy
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Breathlessness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Weight loss or gain


  • Inability to sleep
  • Waking early
  • Over or under eating
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Dreaming about the deceased
  • Nightmares
  • Over active
  • Avoiding reminders of spouse
  • Treasuring objects of spouse
  • Sighing
  • Unable to make decisions
  • Crying
  • Restlessness
You can expect that:

  • Your grief will take longer than most people think it should
  • Your grief will take more energy that you can imagine
  • Your grief will involve continual changes
  • Your grief will show itself in all aspects of your life and who you are. It will affect your social relationships, your health, thoughts, feelings and spiritual beliefs
  • Your grief will depend upon how you perceive the loss
  • You will grieve for many things (both symbolic and tangible), not just the death itself
  • You will grieve for what you have lost already as well as for the future; for the hopes, dreams and unfulfilled expectations you held for and with that person
  • Your grief will involve a wide variety of feelings and reactions; some expected, some not
  • This loss will resurrect old losses, feelings and unfinished business from the past
  • You may have some confusion about who you are; this is due to the intensity and unfamiliarity for the grieving experience and uncertainty about your new role in the world
  • You may have a combination of anger and depression; irritability, frustration, intolerance
  • You may feel guilt in some form
  • You may have a poor sense of self-worth
  • You may experience spasms, waves or acute upsurges of grief that occur without warning
  • You will have trouble thinking and making decisions; poor memory and organization
  • You may feel like you are going crazy
  • You may be obsessed with the death or preoccupied with thoughts of your spouse
  • You will search for meaning in your life and question your beliefs
  • You may find yourself acting differently
  • Society has unrealistic expectations about your morning and may respond inappropriately
  • You will have a number of physical reactions
  • Certain dates, events, seasons and reminders will bring upsurges in your grief
  • Certain experiences later in life may resurrect intense grief feelings for you


by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D

When Someone Loved Dies

Adults grieve. So do children. As an adult or child, experiencing grief means to “feel,” not just to “understand.” Anyone old enough to love is old enough to grieve. Even before children are able to talk, they grieve when someone loved dies. And these feelings about the death become a part of their lives forever.

Caring adults, whether parents, relatives or friends, can help children during this time. If adults are open, honest and loving, experiencing the loss of someone loved can be a chance for children to learn about both the joy and the pain that comes from caring deeply for other people.

Talking About Death to Children

Adult sometimes have trouble facing death themselves. So open, honest discussions about death with children can be difficult. Yet adults who are able to confront, explore and learn from their own personal fears about death can help children when someone loved dies. As a result, children can form ” a healthy attitude toward both life and death.

When a death occurs, children need to be surrounded by feelings of warmth, acceptance and understanding. Caring adults can provide this support.

A Caring Adult’s Role

How adults respond when someone loved dies has a major effect on the way children react to the death. Sometimes, adults don’t want to talk about the death, assuming that by doing so children will be spared some of the pain and sadness.

However, the reality is very simple: children will grieve, anyway.

Adults who are willing to talk openly about the death help children understand that grief is a natural feeling when someone loved had died. Children need adults to confirm that it’s all right to be sad and to cry, and that the hurt they feel now won’t last forever.

When ignored, children may suffer more from feeling isolated than from the actual death itself. Worse yet, they feel all alone in their grief.

Encourage Questions About Death

When someone loved had died, adults need to be open, honest and loving. Patiently, they need to answer questions about the death in language children can understand.

Adults shouldn’t worry about having all the answers. The answers aren’t as important as the fact that they’re responding to the questions in a way that shows they care.

Children may repeat the same questions about the death again and again. It’s natural. Repeating questions and getting answers helps them understand and adjust to the loss of someone loved.

Establish a Helping Relationship

Respond to children with sensitivity and warmth. Be aware of voice tone; maintain eye contact when talking about the death. What is communicated without words can be just as meaningful to children as what is actually said.

Let children know that their feelings will be accepted. Although some of their behavior may seem inappropriate, adults need to understand children during this stressful time, not judge their behavior or criticize.

Children need to know that adults want to understand their point of view. This commitment tells a child, “You’re worthwhile; your feelings will be respected.”

Sharing Religious Beliefs with a Child

Adults often wonder if they should share with children their religious beliefs regarding death. This is a complex issue; no simple guidelines are available.

Keep in mind that adults can only share with children those concepts they truly believe. Any religious explanations about death must also be described in concrete terms; children have difficulty understanding abstractions. The theological correctness of the information is less important at this time than the fact that the adult is communicating in a loving way.

Allow Children to Participate

Create an atmosphere that tells children that their thoughts, fears and wishes will be recognized when someone loved dies. This recognition includes the right to be part of planning the arrangements for the funeral.

Although children may not completely understand the ceremony surrounding the death, being involved in the planning of the funeral helps establish a sense of comfort and the understanding that life goes on even though someone loved has died.

Since the funeral of someone loved is a significant event, children should have the same opportunity to attend as any other member of the family. That’s “allowed” to attend, but not “forced.” Explain the purpose of the funeral: as a time to honor the person who has died; as a time to help, comfort and support each other and as a time to affirm that life goes on.

Viewing the body of someone loved who has died can also be a positive experience. It provides an opportunity to say “goodbye” and helps children accept the reality of the death. As with attending the funeral, however, seeing the body should not be forced.

Growing Through Grief

Grief is complex. It will vary from child to child. Caring adults need to communicate to children that this feeling is not one to be ashamed of or something to hide. Instead, grief is a natural expression of love for the person who died.

As a caring adult, the challenge is clear: children do not choose between grieving and not grieving; adults, on the other hand, do have a choice- to help or not to help children cope with grief.

With love and understanding, adults can guide children through this vulnerable time and help make the experience a valuable part of a child’s personal growth and development.

Suggested Guidelines Concerning Children and Grief

Be a good observer. See how each child is behaving. Don’t rush in with explanations. Usually, it’s more helpful to ask exploring questions than to give quick answers.

When someone loved dies, don’t expect children’s reactions to be obvious and immediate. Be patient and be available.

Children are part of the family, too. And reassurance comes from the presence of loving people. Children feel secure in the care of gentle arms and tenderness.

When describing the death of someone loved to a child, use simple and direct language.

Be honest. Express your own feelings regarding the death. By doing so, children have a model for expressing their own feelings. It’s all right to cry, too.

Allow children to express a full range of feelings. Anger, guilt, despair and protest are natural reactions to the death of someone loved.

Listen to children, don’t just talk to them.

No one procedure or formula will fit all children, either at the time of death or during the months that follow. Be patient, flexible and adjust to individual needs.

Adults must recognize their own personal feelings about death. Until they consciously explore their own concerns, doubts, and fears about death, it will be difficult to support children when someone loved dies.

Related Resources

  • Healing The Grieving Child’s Heart: 100 Practical Ideas For Families, Friends & Caregivers (book)
  • Healing The Bereaved Child: Grief Gardening, Growth Through Grief And Other Touchstones For Caregivers (book)

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator and practicing grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado and presents dozens of grief-related workshops each year across North America. Among his books are Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas and The Healing Your Grieving Heart Journal for Teens. For more information, write or call The Center for Loss and Life Transition, 3735 Broken Bow Road, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, (970) 226-6050 or visit their website,

Copyright 2007, Center for Loss and Life Transition

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

When Someone a Baby Loves Dies

When someone a baby loves dies, knowing what to say or do can be difficult. How do you tell a toddler that his favorite grandpa is dead? What do you do when a baby whose mother has died cries all the time and refuses to eat?

Indeed, young children constitute a very special group of mourners. This article discusses some of their unique needs and will help you care for bereaved infants and toddlers up to age three.

Yes, Even Babies Grieve

Many adults think that because very young children are not completely aware of what is going on around them, they are not impacted by death. We must dispel this myth. I say it simply: Any child old enough to love is old enough to mourn.

True, infants and toddlers are not developmentally mature enough to fully understand the concept of death. In fact, many children do not truly understand the inevitability and permanence of death until adolescence.

But understanding death and being affected by it are two very different things. When a primary caregiver dies, even tiny babies notice and react to the loss. They might not know exactly what happened and why, but they do know that someone important is now missing from their small worlds.

Yes, even babies grieve. And when someone they love dies, children of all ages need our time and attention if they are to heal and grow to be emotionally healthy adults.

The Special Needs of Bereaved Infants

As anyone who has been around infants knows, babies quickly bond with their mothers or other primary caregivers. In fact, studies have shown that babies just hours old recognize and respond to their mothers’ voices. Many psychologists even believe that babies think they and their mothers are one and the same person for a number of months.

This powerful and exclusive attachment to mommy and daddy continues through most of the first year of life. When a parent dies, then, there is no question the baby notices that something is missing. She will likely protest her loss by crying more than usual, sleeping more or less than she did before or changing her eating patterns.

Offer Comfort
When they are upset, most infants are soothed by physical contact. Pick up the bereaved infant when he cries. Wear him in a front pack; he will be calmed by your heartbeat and motion. Give him a gentle baby massage. Talk to him and smile at him as much as possible.

And do not worry about spoiling him. The more you hold him, rock him and sing to him, the more readily he will realize that though things have changed, someone will always be there to take care of him.

Take Care of Basic Needs.
Besides lots of love, an infant needs to be fed, sheltered, diapered and bathed. Try to maintain the bereaved baby’s former schedule. But don’t be surprised if she sleeps or eats more or less than usual. Such changes are her way of showing her grief. If she starts waking up several times a night, soothe her back to sleep. If she doesn’t want to eat as much for now, that’s OK, too.

The most important thing you can do is to meet her needs-whatever they seem to be-quickly and lovingly in the weeks and months to come.

The Special Needs of Bereaved Toddlers

Like infants, bereaved toddlers mostly need our love and attention. They also need us to help them understand that though it is painful, grief is the price we pay for the priceless chance to love others. They need us to teach them that death is a normal and natural part of life.

Offer Comfort and Care
The bereaved toddler needs one-on-one care 24 hours a day. Make sure someone she loves and trusts is always there to feed her, clothe her, diaper her and play with her. Unless she is already comfortable with a certain provider, now is not the time to put her in daycare.

Expect regressive behaviors from bereaved toddlers. Those who slept well before may now wake up during the night. Independent children may now be afraid to leave their parents’ side. Formerly potty-trained kids may need diapers again. All of these behaviors are normal grief responses. They are the toddler’s way of saying, “I’m upset by this death and I need to be taken care of right now.” By tending to her baby-like needs, you will be letting her know that she will be taken care of and that she is loved without condition.

Model Your Own Grief
Toddlers learn by imitation. If you grieve in healthy ways, toddlers will learn to do the same. Don’t hide your feelings when you’re around children. Instead, share them. Cry if you want to. Be angry if you want to. Let the toddler know that these painful feelings are not directed at him and are not his fault, however.

Sometimes you may feel so overwhelmed by your own grief that you can’t make yourself emotionally available to the bereaved toddler. You needn’t feel guilty about this; it’s OK to need some “alone time” to mourn. In fact, the more fully you allow yourself to do your own work of mourning, the sooner you’ll be available to help the child. In the meantime, make sure other caring adults are around to nurture the bereaved toddler.

Use Simple, Concrete Language
When someone a toddler loves dies, he will know that person is missing. He may ask for Mommy or Uncle Ted one hundred times a day. I recommend using the word “dead” in response to his queries. Say, “Mommy is dead, honey. She can never come back.” Though he won’t yet know what “dead” means, he will begin to differentiate it from “bye-bye” or “gone” or “sleeping”-terms that only confuse the issue. Tell him that dead means the body stops working. The person can’t walk or talk anymore, can’t breathe and can’t eat. And while using simple, concrete language is important, remember that more than two-thirds of your support will be conveyed nonverbally.

Keep Change to a Minimum
All toddlers need structure, but bereaved toddlers, especially, need their daily routines. Keeping mealtimes, bedtime and bathtime the same lets them know that their life continues and that they will always be cared for. And try not to implement other changes right away. Now is not the time to go from a crib to a bed, to potty train or to wean from a bottle.

Allow Them To Participate

Since the funeral is a significant event, children-no matter how young-should have the same opportunity to attend as any other member of the family. Encourage, but never force. Explain the purpose of the funeral to toddlers: a time to be happy about our love for Grandma, a time to be sad that she is gone, a time to say goodbye.

When they choose to, young children can participate in the funeral by lighting a candle or placing a memento or photo in the casket.

For toddlers, viewing the body of the person who died can also be a positive experience. It provides an opportunity for you to show them what death looks like.

Explain that the person is not sleeping, but has stopped breathing and functioning altogether. As with attending the funeral, however, seeing the body should not be forced.

While taking an infant or toddler to the funeral may seem unimportant now, think what that inclusion will mean to her later. As a teenager and adult, she will feel good knowing that instead of being home with a babysitter, she was included in this meaningful ritual.

Help Infants and Toddlers “Remember”

Very few of us remember things that happened before we were four or five years old. So though he may have one or two vague and fleeting memories from this time period, it is unlikely the bereaved infant or toddler will clearly remember the person who died.

But when they get older, bereaved children will naturally be curious about this important person they never had a chance to know. Was Grandma nice? What did Daddy look like?

You can help answer these questions by putting together a “memory box” for the bereaved child. Collect momentos and photos that might later be special to the child. Write down memories, especially those that capture the relationship between the person who died and the infant or toddler. If you have videotape footage of the deceased, place a copy in the memory box for safekeeping.

During my many years as a bereavement counselor, I have learned that remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible. You have the opportunity to help link the bereaved young child’s past and future.

Be Aware of Attachment Disorders

A few bereaved infants and toddlers, typically those who do not receive sufficient love and attention after the death of a significant person in their lives, go on to develop what is called an “attachment disorder.” Children who experience multiple losses are also at risk.

Basically, young children with attachment disorders learn not to trust or love. When a child’s primary caregiver dies, for example, the child may unconsciously decide that this kind of separation is too painful. So to prevent it from happening again, he “detaches” himself emotionally from those around him.

How do you know if a child is “detached?” Usually it is obvious that something is wrong. Among the symptoms are a lack of ability to give and receive affection, cruelty to others or to pets, speech disorders, extreme control problems and abnormalities in eye contact. Accurate diagnoses can only be made by mental health professionals with training in this area. And while we don’t yet know all there is to know about attachment disorders, we do know that if a child has become detached it is important to seek help as early as possible. The older the child becomes, the more difficult it is to help him attach to others in healthy ways.

Final Thoughts

Remember, any child old enough to love is old enough to mourn. And infants and toddlers are certainly capable of loving. As caring adults, we have a responsibility to help them during this difficult time. With our love and attention, they will learn to understand their loss and grow to be emotionally healthy children, adolescents and adults.

About the Author

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator and practicing grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado and presents dozens of grief-related workshops each year across North America. Among his books are Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas and The Healing Your Grieving Heart Journal for Teens. For more information, write or call The Center for Loss and Life Transition, 3735 Broken Bow Road, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, (970) 226-6050 or visit their website,

Copyright 2007, Center for Loss and Life Transition

  1. I have the right to have my own unique feelings about the death
    I might feel mad, sad or lonely.  I might feel scared or relieved.  I might feel numb or sometimes not anything at all.  No one will feel exactly like I do.
  2. I have the right to talk about my grief whenever I feel like talking.
    When I need to talk, I will find someone who will listen to me and love me.  When I don’t want to talk, that’s OK, too
  3. I have the right to show my feelings of grief in my own way.
    When they are hurting, some kids like to play so they’ll feel better for awhile.   I can play or laugh, too.  I might also get mad and misbehave. This does not mean I am bad, it just means I have scary feelings that I need help with
  4. I have the right to need other people to help me with my grief, especially grown-ups who care about me.
    Mostly I need them to pay attention to what I am feeling an dsaying and to love me no matter what
  5. I have the right to get upset about normal, everyday problems.
    I might feel grumpy and have trouble getting along with others sometimes.
  6. I have the right to have “griefbursts”
    Griefbursts are sudden, unexpected feelings of sadness that just hit me sometimes – even long after the death.  These feelings can be very strong and even scary.  When this happens, I might feel afraid to be alone.
  7. I have the right to use my beliefs about God to help me with my grief.
    Praying might make me feel better and somehow closer to the person who died.
  8. I have the right to try to figure out why the person I loved died.
    But it’s OK if I don’t find an answer.  Why questions about life and death are the hardest questions in the world
  9. I have the right to think and talk about my memories of the person who died.
    Sometimes those memories will be happy and sometimes they might be sad.  Either way, memories help me keep alive my love for the person who died
  10. I have the right to move toward and feel my grief and, over time, to heal
    I’ll go on to live a happy life, but the life and death of the person who died will always be a part of me.  I’ll always mist he person who died.

A Child’s View of Grief: A Guide for Parents, Teachers, and Counselors

Alan D. Wolfelt

Self Care

Be patient with yourself

  • there is no timeline to grief, but over time it does ease
  • go gently – don’t rush
  • don’t compare yourself to other bereaved

Change your priorities and expectations

  • be realistic with yourself and what you can accomplish
  • you are first priority
  • each day plan what is most important to you
  • don’t take on new responsibilities right away
  • don’t over extend yourself

Ask for help and accept it

  • don’t be afraid to ask for help – it means nothing more, than you just need some help
  • accept help and support when offered
  • make a list of things you need help with, so that when people offer you can give them ideas

Accept your feelings

  • feel what you feel – you don’t choose your emotions, they choose you.
  • it’s okay to cry, crying can make you feel better – it is also ok to not cry!
  • it’s okay to be angry – don’t push it down – it takes more energy to hold things in
  • thinking you are going crazy is a very normal reaction, you are not losing your mind, only reacting to the death
  • you may experience physical problems brought on by emotional reactions, these physical problems are real – take steps to remedy them

Be good to yourself

  • good nutrition is very important – do your best to eat well
  • drink 6 glasses of water per day
    • line up the full glasses in the morning and aim to have them all empty by the time you go to bed
  • moderate exercise helps
  • get good rest
  • if certain days or holidays are especially difficult – schedule activities you find comforting
  • plan things to which you can look forward to – a trip, visit, or lunch with a friend, etc.
  • be good and kind to yourself – put balance in your life
  • when you feel ready, broaden your interests
    • write a list of things you always wanted to try to do.
    • try something new as well as rediscover old interests, activities and friends
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Few events in life are as painful as the death of your spouse. You may be uncertain you will survive this overwhelming loss. At times, you may be uncertain you even have the energy or desire to try to heal.

You are beginning a journey that is often frightening, overwhelming and sometimes lonely. This article provides practical suggestions to help you move toward healing in your personal grief experience.

Allow Yourself to Mourn

Your husband or wife has died. This was your companion, the person you shared your life with. If right now you are not sure of who you are, and you feel confused, that is appropriate because you have lost a part of yourself. When you experience the death of someone you love, live with, and depend on, feeling disoriented is natural.

You are now faced with the difficult but important need to mourn. Mourning is the open expression of your thoughts and feelings regarding the death of your spouse. It is an essential part of healing.

Recognize Your Grief is Unique

Your grief is unique because no one else had the same relationship you had with your spouse. Your experience will also be influenced by the circumstances surrounding the death, other losses you have experienced, your emotional support system and your cultural and religious background.

As a result, you will grieve in your own special way. Don’t try to compare your experience with that of others or to adopt assumptions about just how long your grief should last. Consider taking a “one-day-at-a-time” approach that allows you to grieve at your own pace.

Talk Out Your Thought and Feelings

Express your grief openly. When you share your grief outside yourself, healing occurs. Allow yourself to talk about the circumstances of the death, your feelings of loss and loneliness, and the special things you miss about your spouse. Talk about the type of person your husband or wife was, activities that you enjoyed together, and memories that bring both laughter and tears.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore your grief. You have been wounded by this loss, and your wound needs to be attended to. Allow yourself to speak from your heart, not just your head. Doing so doesn’t mean you are losing control, or going “crazy.” It is a normal part of your grief journey.

Expect to Feel a Multitude of Emotions

Experiencing the death of your spouse affects your head, heart and spirit, so you may experience a variety of emotions as part of your grief work. It is called work because it takes a great deal of energy and effort to heal. Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt, relief and anger are just a few of the emotions you may feel. Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time. Or they may occur simultaneously.

As strange as some of these emotions may seem, they are normal and healthy. Allow yourself to learn from these feelings. And don’t be surprised if out of nowhere you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. These grief attacks can be frightening and leave you feeling overwhelmed. They are, however, a natural response to the death of someone loved. Find someone who understands your feelings and will allow you to talk about them.

Find a Support System

Reaching out to others and accepting support is often difficult, particularly when you hurt so much. But the most compassionate self-action you can take at this difficult time is to find a support system of caring friends and relatives who will provide the understanding you need. Seek out those persons who will “walk with,” not “in front of” or “behind” you in your journey through grief. Find out if there is a support group in your area that you might want to attend. There is no substitute for learning from other persons who have experienced the death of their spouse.

Avoid people who are critical or who try to steal your grief from you. They may tell you “time heals all wounds” or “you will get over it” or “keep your chin up.” While these comments may be well-intended, you do not have to accept them. Find those people who encourage you to be yourself and acknowledge your feelings-both happy and sad. You have a right to express your grief; no one has the right to take it away.

Be tolerant of Your Physical and Emotional Limits

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired. And your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible.

Ask yourself: Am I treating myself better or worse than I would treat a good friend? Am I being too hard on myself? You may think you should be more capable, more in control, and “getting over” your grief. These are inappropriate expectations and may complicate your healing. Think of it this way: caring for yourself doesn’t mean feeling sorry for yourself; it means you are using your survival skills.

Take Your Time With Your Spouse’s Personal Belongings

You, and only you, should decide what is done when with your spouse’s clothes and personal belongings. Don’t force yourself to go through these things until you are ready to. Take your time. Right now you may not have the energy or desire to do anything with them.

Remember that some people may try to measure your healing by how quickly they can get you to do something with these belongings. Don’t let them make decisions for you. It isn’t hurting anything to leave your spouse’s belongings right where they are for now. Odds are, when you have the energy to go through them you will. Again, only you should determine when the time is right for you.

Be Compassionate With Yourself During Holidays, Anniversaries and Special Occasions

You will probably find that some days make you miss your spouse more than others. Days and events that held special meaning for you as a couple, such as your birthday, your spouse’s birthday, your wedding anniversary or holidays, may be more difficult to go through by yourself.

These events emphasize the absence of your husband or wife. The reawakening of painful emotions may leave you feeling drained. Learn from these feelings and never try to take away the hurt. If you belong to a support group, perhaps you can have a special friend stay in close contact with you during these naturally difficult days.

Treasure Your Memories

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after your spouse dies. Treasure those memories that comfort you, but also explore those that may trouble you. Even difficult memories find healing in expression. Share memories with those who listen well and support you. Recognize that your memories may make you laugh or cry. In either case, they are a lasting part of the relationship you had with a very special person in your life.

You may also find comfort in finding a way to commemorate your spouse’s life. If your spouse liked nature, plant a tree you know he or she would have liked. If your spouse liked a certain piece of music, play it often while you embrace some of your favorite memories. Or, you may want to create a memory book of photos that portray your life together as a couple. Remember-healing in grief doesn’t mean forgetting your spouse and the life you shared together.

Embrace Your Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you are angry at God because your spouse died, accept this feeling as a normal part of your grief work. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.

You may hear someone say, “With faith, you don’t need to grieve.” Don’t believe it. Having your personal faith does not mean you don’t have to talk out and explore your thought and feelings. To deny your grief is to invite problems to build up inside you. Express your faith, but express your grief as well.

Move Toward Your Grief and Heal

Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. Be compassionate with yourself as you work to relinquish old roles and establish new ones. No, your life isn’t the same, but you deserve to go on living while always remembering the one you loved.

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator and practicing grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado and presents dozens of grief-related workshops each year across North America. Among his books are Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas and The Healing Your Grieving Heart Journal for Teens. For more information, write or call The Center for Loss and Life Transition, 3735 Broken Bow Road, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, (970) 226-6050 or visit their website,

Copyright 2007, Center for Loss and Life

You are the one who is grieving and you have certain rights, no one should try to take away

  1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
    No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t allow them to tell you what you should or should not be feeling
  2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
    Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don’t feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.
  3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
    Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt, and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.
  4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
    Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.
  5. You have the right to experience “griefbursts”.
    Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but it is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
  6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
    The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More important, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don’t listen.
  7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
    If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs.
  8. You have the right to search for meaning.
    You may find yourself asking, “Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you. Comments like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you still have to be thankful for” are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.
  9. You have the right to treasure your memories.
    Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with who you can share them.
  10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.
    Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is best experienced in “doses.” Be patient and tolerant with yourself. Avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.

Taken from “Understanding your Grief” Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Helping Others

Be there

Listen – grieving people need to talk and need to have someone who will just listen

Make a specific offer to help, but be realistic about what help you can offer

Educate yourself on normal grief behaviour

Give them permission to grieve – for as long as they need to

Accept them unconditionally Encourage them to talk about their feelings and reliving memories

Say their loved one’s name in conversations

Tolerate angry responses

Give them hope

Allow them to guide conversation

Be available, but allow bereaved to find own journey

Allow emotions – don’t try and shut down their emotions

Recognize they may not be functioning clearly and effectively on day to day tasks

Be patient – grief takes time, don’t rush them through their journey

Dr. Bill Webster

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

A man you care about is grieving. Someone he loved has died and you would like to help him during this difficult time. This brochure will help you know what to do and say as you offer your love and companionship to your friend.

Men feel the need to be strong.

Even in the face of tragic loss, many men in our society still feel the need to be selfcontained, stoic and to express little or no outward emotion. It is very much in vogue today to encourage men to openly express their feelings, but in practice few men do so. The outward expression of grief is called mourning. All men grieve when someone they love dies, but if they are to heal, they must also mourn.

You can help by offering a “safe place” for your friend to mourn. Tell him you’d like to help. Offer to listen whenever he wants to talk. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on the words that are being shared with you. Let him know that in your presence at least, it’s OK for him to express whatever feelings he might havesadness, anger, guilt, fear. Around you, he doesn’t have to be strong because you will offer support without judgment.

Men feel the need to be active.

The grief experience naturally creates a turning inward and slowing down on the part of the mourner, a temporary self-focus that is vital to the ultimate healing process. Yet for many men this is threatening. Masculinity is equated with striving, moving and activity. Many grieving men throw themselves into their work in an attempt to distract themselves from their painful feelings.

Maybe you can offer your friend both activity and time for reflection. Ask him to shoot hoops or play golf. Go for a hike or fishing with your friend. Let him know that you really want to hear how he’s doing, how he’s feeling. In the context of these activities he just might share some of his innermost thoughts.

Active problem-solving is another common male response to grief. If a father’s child dies of SIDS, for example, the father may become actively involved in fundraising for SIDS research. A husband whose wife is killed may focus on the legal circumstances surrounding the death. Such activities can be healing for grieving men and should be encouraged.

Men feel the need to be protectors.

Men are generally thought of as the “protectors” of the family. They typically work to provide their spouses and children with a warm, safe home, safe transportation and good medical care. So when a member of his family dies, the “man of the house” may feel guilty. No matter how out of his control the death was, the man may feel deep down that he has failed at protecting the people in his care.

If your friend expresses such thoughts, you will probably feel the need to reassure him that the death was not his fault. Actually, you may help your friend more by just listening and trying to understand. By allowing him to talk about his feelings of failure, you are helping him to work through these feelings in his own way and his own time.

It’s OK for men to grieve differently.

We’ve said that men feel the need to be strong and active in the face of grief. Such responses are OK as long as your friend isn’t avoiding his feelings altogether. It’s also OK for men to feel and express rage, to be more cognitive or analytical about the death, to not cry. All of these typically masculine responses to grief may help your friend heal; there is no one “right” way to mourn a death.

Avoid clichés.

Sometimes words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for mourners. Clichés are trite comments often intended to provide simple solutions to difficult realities. Men are often told “You’ll get over this” or “Don’t worry, you and Susie (can) have another child” or “Think about the good times.” Comments like these are not constructive. Instead, they hurt because they diminish a very real and very painful loss.

Make contact.

Your presence at the funeral is important. As a ritual, the funeral provides an opportunity for you to express your love and concern at this time of need. As you pay tribute to a life that is now passed, you have a chance to support your grieving friend. At the funeral, a touch of your hand, a look in your eye or even a hug communicates more than words could ever say.

But don’t just attend the funeral then disappear. Remain available afterwards as well. Grief is a process, and it may take your friend years to reconcile himself to his new life. Remember that your grieving friend may need you more in the weeks and months after the funeral than at the time of the death.

Be aware of holidays and other significant days.

Your friend may have a difficult time during special occasions like holidays and other significant days, such as the birthday of the person who died and the anniversary of the death. These events emphasize the person’s absence. Respect this pain as a natural extension of the grief process.

These are appropriate times to visit your friend or write a note or simply give him a quick phone call. Your ongoing support will be appreciated and healing.

Watch for warning signs.

Men who deny and repress their real feelings of grief may suffer serious long-term problems. Among these are:  chronic depression, withdrawal and low self-esteem

  • deterioration in relationships with friends and family
  • physical complaints such as headaches, fatigue and backaches
    chronic anxiety, agitation and restlessness
  • chemical abuse or dependence
  • indifference toward others, insensitivity and workaholism

If you see any of these symptoms in your friend, talk to him about your concern. Find helping resources for him in his community, such as support groups and grief counselors. You can’t force your friend to seek help but you can make it easier for him to seek help.

Understand the importance of the loss.

Always remember that the death of someone loved is a shattering experience. As a result of this death, your friend’s life is under reconstruction. Consider the significance of the loss and be compassionate and available in the weeks and months to come.

“Helping a friend in grief is a difficult task. Helping a man in grief can be especially difficult, so few friends follow through in their desire to help. I encourage you to stand by your friend during this painful time. Your ongoing presence, patience and support will help him more than you will ever know.”

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator and practicing grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado and presents dozens of grief-related workshops each year across North America. Among his books are Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas and The Healing Your Grieving Heart Journal for Teens. For more information, write or call The Center for Loss and Life Transition, 3735 Broken Bow Road, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, (970) 226-6050 or visit their website,

Copyright 2007, Center for Loss and Life

Holidays & Special Days

December 2012
Fran King B.A., B.Ed, C.B.E., C.G.T.
Educational Consultant and Grief Therapist
905 666 2129

This holiday season can be a tough time for those who have lost a loved one as familiar rituals can renew the pain of loss, even years after the death. Unpacking a favorite ornament, hearing a cherished carol, or using a treasured family menorah can reawaken and trigger grief reactions. Bittersweet memories and watching the carefree exuberance of others can intensify the pain of grieving and cause a sense of loneliness.

Most holidays are one-day events but when it comes to Christmas, it begins in late November and continues on until after the New Year. It is hard to escape this festive season unless you retreat from humanity. The lead-up to Christmas that includes holiday music, decorations, radio and T.V. commercials and Christmas specials can be very challenging. Enormous expectations are placed on the actual day to be picture perfect.

No matter how long ago your loss took place, sadness is normal and your feelings of sorrow and pain are unavoidable and heightened during this season. Intense emotions will diminish, but grief is an ongoing process not a one-time event. It will get easier with time, but there will always be an empty space at your table. If your loss has been over a year many people will expect you to be “over it”. They don’t understand how grief creeps up at special times such as holidays and anniversaries. Be prepared to educate those who expect you to be functioning normally. Let them know you will never be “over your loss”, but assure them you hope to eventually enjoy the holidays again.

The first holiday season after a death can be especially difficult since it is your first experience without your loved one. Your pain during this first year is often dulled by shock, and numbness and some find that their second holiday season is actually more painful. By the second year, you have probably acknowledged the reality of the death, not only in your head but also in your heart. The protective numbness has worn off and your ache has deepened. If this happens, do not worry. You are not going crazy. What you are feeling is normal and natural.

It is important to view the holidays in perspective. Bombarded by picture-perfect” families on T.V. shows and in Hallmark commercials, we are brainwashed into thinking that we’re supposed to have similar experiences. That’s just not the way it is for most people. Acknowledge that this year things will be much different. Remember that the anticipation of any holiday is generally much worse than the actual day itself. The power of planning your holiday time will not change your loss but it will give you more control over the situation.

Negotiate with friends and loved ones in deciding how to make the holidays manageable. Family gettogethers may be extremely difficult so don’t set expectations too high for yourself or other family members on the actual day. Some people find it helpful to be with family and friends, emphasizing familiar traditions; others may wish to avoid familiar routines and find new ways to acknowledge the season. Some stay at home, others plan a trip to Disney World or the ski hills. There are no universal rules to follow and there is no right or wrong way to get through this. Do whatever feels right to you.

Make this a time to re-examine your priorities. Ask the questions: “What do I really delight in doing? What should I delegate or change?” Give yourself and your family permission to take part in meaningful rituals. Remember, enjoying yourself is not a betrayal of your loved one and laughter and joy are not disrespectful.

Consult with your children to see what their wishes are as Christmas can still be a special time for them. It is important to realize that children grieve in small doses and should be given the opportunity to enjoy anticipated festivities, family and friends. You can help maintain their feelings of safety and security by continuing as many of their familiar traditions as possible. Encourage them to talk about their special memories, especially those related to past holidays. Suggest that they write a note to or make a gift for their loved one and these can be delivered to the gravesite or hung on the Christmas tree. Remember to allow them to spend time playing with their friends, even on Christmas day.

Be careful of “shoulds”. It is better to do what feels best for you and your family, not what you or others think you SHOULD do. Don’t let anyone “should on you”; give yourself permission not to do things. Once you have decided how your family will handle the holidays, let others know. Take part in holiday preparations that you enjoy and look for alternatives for those you don’t enjoy. For example, this year you could buy baked goods, let others bake for you or do without. For Christmas dinner, you may decide to visit relatives or friends. If you have dinner at home, try changing the menu, the time, or the room. You may want to be involved in preparing the meal, or not. If you decide to decorate your home, let children or other family members and friends help you. It’s okay to do something different or not decorate at all. Remember, what you choose to do this time can always be changed next year.

Don’t give into holiday pressure. Don’t feel that you have to go shopping or cook up a storm. It helps if these activities energize you but avoid them if they cause stress. Set limits. It’s important to let go of the need to be perfect and of “doing it all”. If you’re used to doing all of the shopping, cooking and decorating, perhaps this is the year to share those duties with others.

Be gentle with yourself and don’t expect too much. If you cry, your tears don’t have to ruin the day. Your example may provide others the permission to grieve and feel sad on a “happy” day. As the holiday approaches, share your concerns, worries and apprehensions. Let others know what causes you distress, as they cannot read your mind. Christmas shopping can be upsetting and it may help for you to shop early, to shop by telephone, catalogue or Internet, or to take along an understanding friend. Friends may be happy to shop for you if they realize how difficult this is for you.

Embrace your memories and find comfort in them. This is the bittersweet part. Allow yourself the right to talk about the person who has died. The process of sharing memories will help with the healing process. You can commemorate your loved one’s memory by burning a special candle or hanging a stocking for your loved one in which people can put notes with their thoughts or feelings. Listen to holiday music especially liked by your loved one. If you are comfortable, share photographs with family and friends and cherish your memories.

Be sure to take time out to care for yourself, whether it is through pampering or just slowing down your pace. Be gentle with yourself and treat yourself as you would your own best friend. Try to eat a nutritious diet, avoid excess alcohol, exercise, and get an adequate amount of sleep.

Celebrate life. Attend a holiday or religious service if faith is part of your life. Some people find comfort in acts of remembrance such as donating a floral arrangement at church in memory of a loved one or making a donation to a charity. You might decide to visit your loved one’s gravesite and leave a holiday wreath or Christmas ornaments and personal notes.

Don’t isolate yourself. Surround yourself with supportive people who are good for you. Understand that pain and distress are normal feelings. No matter what you do, you will still love and miss your loved one. It’s only natural.

Here are some additional ideas on how to navigate the holiday season:

  • Change family traditions, or create new ones. Send New Year’s cards instead of Christmas cards or don’t send them at all this year.
  • Buy a gift your loved one would have enjoyed and give it to charity.
  • Write a letter or poetry to your loved one.
  • Make a photo collage, a memory book or a picture board.
  • Purchase or make a memorial candle to light whenever you want to feel a warming presence.
  • Place a single flower on the table in honor of the “presence” of your loved one.
  • Spend time together as a family with the family album. Make it a special celebration as the past is discussed, reviewed and re-lived.
  • Plan to tell a favorite story at the holiday table about your loved one. Plan a brief memorial tribute or prayer.
  • Prepare yourself emotionally and physically with meditation, exercise, proper diet, and time to be by yourself. Recognize your limits and pace yourself.
  • Create a new holiday tradition that will memorialize your loved one. For example, purchase a special candleholder and candles or luminaries to light throughout the holiday season each year.
  • Share your holidays. Visit a soup kitchen or nursing home. Do something for someone else.
  • Accept social invitations according to your desire and energy and explain to hosts that you may have to cancel at the last minute. When you do attend, leave when you need to. If you have to leave early you might say, “It is a lovely party, but I am feeling overwhelmed by grief just now and I need to be alone.”
  • Finally, keep your holiday plans flexible. If there were certain plans that did not work this year, then change them next year. Discuss with the children which plans worked well and which ones did not. Holidays will never be the same without your loved one, but they can still be special days.

Just know that there are no magical formulas to remove your suffering. It is not a choice of pain or no pain, but how you will manage that pain for that special day. Have faith that the sadness of your loss will be lessened through the hope and spirit of the holidays, through fond memories of the past, and through thoughts and prayers from friends.

Holiday Grief Resources

  1. A Not So Jolly Christmas; Dr. Bill Webster, 1996, Greenleaf Consultants.
  2. Helping the Bereaved Celebrate the Holidays, James E. Miller, 1997, Willowgreen Publishing.
  3. How Will I Get Through The Holidays? James E. Miller, 1996, Willowgreen Publishing.
  4. Healing Your Holiday Grief, Allan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., 2005, Companion Press.
  5. Holidays and Hope, MADD,
  6. Light a Candle:
  7. Thoughts for the Holidays: Finding Permission to Grieve, Doug Manning, 2001, In-Sight Books.
  8. Tinsel and Tears: A Holiday Guide, Andrea Gambill, Bereavement Publishing, Inc.

Holiday Grief: Light a Candle
Google: candles gratefulness
or Website:

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Holidays are often difficult for anyone who has experienced the death of someone loved. Rather than being times of family togetherness, sharing and thanksgiving, holidays can bring feelings of sadness, loss and emptiness.

Love Does Not End With Death

Since love does not end with death, holidays may result in a renewed sense of personal grief-a feeling of loss unlike that experienced in the routine of daily living. Society encourages you to join in the holiday spirit, but all around you the sounds, sights and smells trigger memories of the one you love who has died.

No simple guidelines exist that will take away the hurt you are feeling. We hope, however, the following suggestions will help you better cope with your grief during this joyful, yet painful, time of the year. As you read through this article, remember that by being tolerant and compassionate with yourself, you will continue to heal.

Talk About Your Grief

During the holiday season, don’t be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Ignoring your grief won’t make the pain go away and talking about it openly often makes you feel better. Find caring friends and relatives who will listen-without judging you. They will help make you feel understood.

Be tolerant of Your Physical and Psychological Limits

Feelings of loss will probably leave you fatigued. Your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. And lower your own expectations about being at your peak during the holiday season.

Eliminate Unnecessary Stress

You may already feel stressed, so don’t overextend yourself. Avoid isolating yourself, but be sure to recognize the need to have special time for yourself. Realize also that merely “keeping busy” won’t distract you from your grief, but may actually increase stress and postpone the need to talk out thoughts and feelings related to your grief.

Be With Supportive, Comforting People

Identify those friends and relatives who understand that the holiday season can increase your sense of loss and who will allow you to talk openly about your feelings. Find those persons who encourage you to be yourself and accept your feelings-both happy and sad.

Talk About the Person Who Has Died

Include the person’s name in your holiday conversation. If you are able to talk candidly, other people are more likely to recognize your need to remember that special person who was an important part of your life.

Do What Is Right for You During the Holidays

Well-meaning friends and family often try to prescribe what is good for you during the holidays. Instead of going along with their plans, focus on what you want to do. Discuss your wishes with a caring, trusted friend.

Talking about these wishes will help you clarify what it is you want to do during the holidays. As you become aware of your needs, share them with your friends and family.

Plan Ahead for Family Gatherings

Decide which family traditions you want to continue and which new ones you would like to begin. Structure your holiday time. This will help you anticipate activities, rather than just reacting to whatever happens. Getting caught off guard can create feelings of panic, fear and anxiety during the time of the year when your feelings of grief are already heightened. As you make your plans, however, leave room to change them if you feel it is appropriate.

Embrace Your Treasure of Memories

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. And holidays always make you think about times past. Instead of ignoring these memories, share them with your family and friends. Keep in mind that memories are tinged with both happiness and sadness. If your memories bring laughter, smile. If your memories bring sadness, then it’s alright to cry. Memories that were made in love-no one can ever take them away from you.

Renew Your Resources for Living

Spend time thinking about the meaning and purpose of your life. The death of someone loved created opportunities for taking inventory of your life-past, present and future. The combination of a holiday and a loss naturally results in looking inward and assessing your individual situation. Make the best use of this time to define the positive things in life that surround you.

Express Your Faith

During the holidays, you may find a renewed sense of faith or discover a new set of beliefs. Associate with people who understand and respect your need to talk about these beliefs. If your faith is important, you may want to attend a holiday service or special religious ceremony. As you approach the holidays, remember: grief is both a necessity and a privilege. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love. Don’t let anyone take your grief away. Love yourself. Be patient with yourself. And allow yourself to be surrounded by loving, caring people.

Related Resources
Understanding Grief: Helping Yourself Heal (book)

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator and practicing grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado and presents dozens of grief-related workshops each year across North America. Among his books are Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas and The Healing Your Grieving Heart Journal for Teens. For more information, write or call The Center for Loss and Life Transition, 3735 Broken Bow Road, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, (970) 226-6050 or visit their website,

Copyright 2007, Center for Loss and Life Transition