Dedicated to Understanding Grief

Howard Lunche, MSW, LCSW

The Universal Response

The drive to form attachments comes with us when we enter the world and endures throughout our lifetime. Establishing and maintaining relationships is basic to our humanity. Without healthy attachments, infants fail to thrive, children are insecure and anxious, and adults suffer loneliness, depression, and feelings of failure. It is a fact of life that we cannot secure our attachments. Mortality ensures that all of our attachments are ultimately severed at death, if not earlier for some other reason. Our essential drive and need for attachment, in a world in which all of our attachments are ultimately severed, sets the stage for our painful experience of loss. 


The death of someone important to us is an inevitable part of living. Grief is inherently human, and a natural, healthy response to loss. Grief is an expression of the bond we have to the person who died. The bond is meaningful, and the severance of the bond is characterized by pain and disruption encompassing all the realms of our life: the physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual. The pain and disruption can be so intense that we may become distressed with what we are experiencing and even question our sanity. Bereaved individuals often make references to “having a breakdown” or “not handling it.”


Grief is a complex, dynamic reaction often portrayed as having stages. It is easy to misconstrue the stage model as linear with definite steps. Contrary to being linear, it is more usual for grief reactions to occur repeatedly and simultaneously over time. It is an up and down experience well known as the “emotional roller coaster” or “waves.” As we cycle and re-cycle through the process, some of the more common reactions are shock (the feeling of “being in a fog”), disbelief, confusion, sleep and appetite disruption, stress, fatigue, sorrow, loneliness, anger, guilt, insecurity, and even relief. We may become forgetful, have difficulty concentrating, and be uninterested in normal activities. Some people no longer see a purpose for living, and wish they would die too. Less frequent are suicidal feelings. It is not unusual to expect to see or hear from the deceased, wonder about his or her whereabouts and well-being, and experience their presence. You may hear, smell, see, or feel him or her around you.


Though we all share common grief reactions, it is important to remember that each person’s experience of loss and grief is unique. Personality, life experience and circumstance, and the specific impact of the loss of the individual who died will shape the grief reaction. Common Grief Reactions lists many of the symptoms common to grief. Though you will not experience all of these symptoms, they are all common and well within the range of a healthy grief response.


Read more about Grief on the following pages.

Grief | Starting Points | The Universal Response | The Pain | Paradox | The Personal Side | Personal & Relationship | Timing & Circumstances | Culture & Religion | More Reading