Living with Grief

We, the staff of Michigan Medicine, wish to extend our condolences on the loss of your loved one. This section of our website is intended to provide supportive information about experiencing grief after the death of an adult in the hospital. To view a summary of all the information in this section, visit the Grief Support Following the Death of a Loved One page.

Please visit the Grief Support Upon the Death of a Child on the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital website for information following the death of a child and Loss of a Desired Pregnancy on the Von Voigtlander Women's site for support following pregnancy loss.

Grief Reactions

“Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt, sleeping when you are tired, eating when you are hungry. It is nature’s way of healing a broken heart.” — Doug Manning

Mourning the loss of your loved one may be one of the hardest things you will ever face. Your emotions are raw. Your heart aches. You may feel lost. Grief is a natural and universal response to the loss of a loved one. Grief reactions may impact you on many levels including your feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and physical sensations. Most people are able to resume life’s activities and the pain lessens within a year after the loss; however, some individuals experience an extension of the standard grieving process and find seeking individual grief therapy helpful.

Initial Grief Reactions

Be patient. Grief reactions come and go, and can show up over many months and years. Over time though, you do learn to adjust to life without their physical presence and begin to focus more on the joy they brought to your life than on the immense sorrow their death has brought. Every person’s timeline is different.  You may experience a multitude of emotions including:

  • Anger: can be a confusing but a common reaction to the loss of a loved one. It is a way of feeling the helplessness and frustration that you can no longer have this person in your life and that you have less control over life than you thought.
  • Shock or Denial: It is hard to believe that the world has really changed because the person you loved is no longer in it. We try to pretend that nothing has happened, that this can’t be real.
  • Numbness: a way we block out the overwhelming feelings of pain and loss.
  • Confusion: can show up as absent-mindedness, forgetfulness, trouble putting thoughts in order.
  • Sadness: Some people cry a lot, others not so much. Tears are a way of releasing stress hormones that build up in our bodies.  However, the amount a person cries is not an indication about love the person had for the one who died.  
  • Guilt: the feeling that not enough was done to help, or that important things were left unsaid.
  • Relief: If things had been difficult between you and the deceased, or if the deceased had been very ill, this can be a normal expression of the mourning process.  One that is experienced frequently, but rarely shared. 

Normal Physical Symptoms of Grief

Typically, these symptoms diminish over time:

  • Change in appetite, either overeating or undereating
  • Low energy level or fatigue, even when there has been no physical activity
  • Stomach upset or headaches
  • Sleep disturbance, either sleeping a lot or inability to fall asleep
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Becoming more aggressive or irritable
  •  Inability to concentrate
  • Sadness and crying over unrelated experiences

Ways to Cope

  • Express your feelings. Talk to a friend, write in a journal, somehow vent your feelings.
  • Seek caring people. This could be a support group, family and relatives, or just someone who has the ability to listen like a professional counselor or therapist.
  • Avoid making major life changes such as moving or changing jobs for the first 6 months to a year if possible.
  • Make sure to take care of your own health. Eat well and exercise.  Even a brief walk can be very beneficial.   
  • Be patient.  It may take months or years to begin to accept your loss.

(Adapted from Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: J. William Worden)

The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn’t remain center of your life. If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming activities you previously enjoyed, individual counseling may be helpful.

Call for Help

If you are experiencing thoughts or feelings that include the following:

  • Life isn’t worth living
  • Wish you had died with your loved one
  • Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
  • Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
  • Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss
  • Are unable to perform your normal daily activities

Call your doctor, mental health provider, or spiritual leader and let them know how you are feeling. They can assist you in addressing your grief. You may also contact Michigan Medicine Depression Center at 734-936-4400 or the Psychiatric Emergency Room of your local hospital. 

Michigan Medicine Psychiatric Emergency Services is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can be reached at 734-936-5900.  If you do not live near Michigan Medicine, you can call your local Emergency Room or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Contact the Office of Decedent Affairs

The Office of Decedent Affairs (ODA) is part of the Michigan Medicine Department of Social Work. The ODA is the centralized point of contact at Michigan Medicine for ongoing questions and concerns before, during, and after the death of a loved one. To contact the Office of Decedent Affairs, call 734-232-4919 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. You may also email the ODA office at SocWk-ODA@med.umich.edu.