What does grief look and feel like?

J. William Worden, author on the subject of grief, talks about the emotions, physical symptoms, and cognitive changes those experiencing grief may go through. Someone grieving can experience a range of emotions that vary in intensity from day to day. They may feel sadness, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, anger, fatigue, helplessness, shock, relief, and numbness. Physical symptoms may also be felt by a person experiencing grief, including but not limited to: tightness in the chest and throat, hollowness in the stomach, lack of appetite, headaches, breathlessness, lack of energy, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. Thoughts and thought patterns are often affected in someone grieving a loss. They may experience disbelief, absentmindedness, confusion, and preoccupation with the deceased or death, for example. All aspects of a person’s life can be affected by grief.

What are the Five Stages of Grief?

According to Kubler-Ross, Kessler, and Shriver (2014), the different stages of grief are:

  1. Denial – When someone cannot believe their loved one has passed. It is not literally an inability to realize that person has died, but rather is a feeling of being overwhelmed and shocked.
  2. Anger – This may be anger at oneself, anger at someone else, anger at the world, etc.
  3. Bargaining – For example, “If he comes back, I will be a better person.” Bargaining is trying to negotiate to undo the loss.
  4. Depression – A person in this stage of grieving may experience symptoms such as decreased appetite, isolating oneself, and change in sleeping patterns to name a few.
  5. Acceptance – This stage involves the person coming to the conclusion that they will be okay, and that there is nothing they can do to change the situation.

Every person grieves in their own way. There is no “normal”. That being said, the stages of grief are some ways in which a person may or may not feel after a loss. A person experiencing grief does not necessarily go through these stages in order, and may not experience all of the stages.

How long does grief last?

The time it takes to process through a loss ranges widely from person to person. There is no quick fix. Many things may affect how a person can deal with the death of a loved one including their personality, coping skills, and what their relationship was with the person that died.  Some healthy and helpful ways to cope with loss include: caring for oneself emotionally and physically, getting enough sleep, exercising, reaching out for help when needed, attending counseling, avoiding isolating oneself, eating healthily, avoiding using alcohol and drugs to cope, allowing yourself to cry and feel the many different emotions that come along with grief, and talking to others about your loved one.

What do I say to someone who is grieving?

It can be difficult to find the right words to comfort someone who is grieving. We might say something trying to make them feel better, but have the opposite effect. Oftentimes a person experiencing loss just needs someone who is there to listen.

David Kessler, an expert on grief, suggests using a version of the following phrases when unsure what to say to someone grieving:

  • “I am so sorry for your loss.”
  • “I wish I had the right words, just know I care.”
  • “I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can.”
  • “You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.”
  • “My favorite memory of your loved one is…”
  • “I am always just a phone call away.”
  • Give a hug instead of saying something
  • “We all need help at times like this, I am here for you.”
  • “I am usually up early or late, if you need anything.”
  • Say nothing, just be with the person


Kubler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D., Shriver, M. (2014). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief      through the five stages of loss. Scribner.

Kessler, D. (n.d.). The 10 best and 10 worst things to say to someone in grief. Retrieved from

Worden, J. W. (2009). Grief counseling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner. New York: Springer Publishing Company, LLC.