Alan Strachan, Ph. D. Santa Cruz Area Marriage and Family Therapist
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How to Deal With Grief




(This article is adapted from SAMHSA  -- the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.)


What is grief?

Grief is the normal response of sorrow, emotion, and confusion that comes from losing someone or something important to you. It is a natural part of life. Grief is a typical reaction to death, divorce, job loss, a move away from friends and family, or loss of good health due to illness.


How does grief feel?

Just after a death or loss, you may feel empty and numb, as if you are in shock. You may notice physical changes such as trembling, nausea, trouble breathing, muscle weakness, dry mouth, or trouble sleeping and eating.

You may become angry - at a situation, a particular person, or just angry in general. Almost everyone in grief also experiences guilt. Guilt is often expressed as "I could have, I should have, and I wish I would have" statements.

People in grief may have strange dreams or nightmares, be absent-minded, withdraw socially, or lack the desire to return to work. While these feelings and behaviors are normal during grief, they will pass.


How long does grief last?

Grief lasts as long as it takes you to accept and learn to live with your loss. For some people, grief lasts a few months. For others, grieving may take years.

The length of time spent grieving is different for each person. There are many reasons for the differences, including personality, health, coping style, culture, family background, and life experiences. The time spent grieving also depends on your relationship with the person lost and how prepared you were for the loss.


How will I know when I'm done grieving?

Every person who experiences a death or other loss must complete a four-step grieving process:

(1) Accept the loss;


(2) Work through and feel the physical and emotional pain of grief;


(3) Adjust to living in a world without the person or item lost; and


(4) Move on with life.


The grieving process is over only when a person completes the four steps.


How does grief differ from depression?

Depression is more than a feeling of grief after losing someone or something you love. Clinical depression is a whole body disorder. It can take over the way you think and feel. Symptoms of depression include:

·   A sad, anxious, or "empty" mood that won't go away;


·   Loss of interest in what you used to enjoy;


·   Low energy, fatigue, feeling "slowed down;"


·   Changes in sleep patterns;


·   Loss of appetite, weight loss, or weight gain;


·   Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions;


·   Feeling hopeless or gloomy;


·   Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless;


·   Thoughts of death or suicide or a suicide attempt; and


·   Recurring aches and pains that don't respond to treatment.


If you recently experienced a death or other loss, these feelings may be part of a normal grief reaction. But if these feelings persist with no lifting mood, ask for help.


Where can I find help?

Psychotherapy is an excellent source of help if you are experiencing grief.  If you live in Santa Cruz and vicinity, you are welcome to call:

·       Alan Strachan, Ph.D. at (831) 685-3100.


In addition, the following list of organizations and web sites provides information and support for coping with grief:

The Compassionate Friends

(national office) P.O. Box 3696

Oak Brook, IL 60522

Toll Free 877-9690010

A national, self-help support organization for those grieving the loss of a child or sibling.



Bethesda Professional Building

4360 Cooper Road, Suite 101

Cincinnati, OH 45242

513-745-0111 (M - F 9:30 am - 4:30 pm EST)

Grief information, resources, and support for grieving children and their families.


RENEW: Center for Personal Recovery

P.O. Box 125 Berea, KY 40403


A grief counseling center for individuals and families that are experiencing loss, with a specialty in grief recovery counseling for traumatic deaths.


Online Resources


GriefNet is a professionally directed, on-line grief support community. It has over 50 monitored support groups covering the loss of a parent, of a child, of a sibling, of a friend, of a spouse, of a pet, loss due to military service, and other unique losses.


Growth House, Inc.

A source of quality information and resources on death and dying issues,




A web site about self-help, support, and recovery issues.