Healthy Aging Column – When a Loved One Dies

Few people are prepared for a loved one’s death. People often don’t like to think about death, so when it happens, it is harder to face. Grieving is a natural part of life; however, people express grief in their own ways and they learn to cope at their own pace. It may not seem so at first, but you can get through this difficult time with patience. In time, your loss can become more bearable, allowing you to lead a fulfilling life once again.

There is no question that your life changes when you lose someone close. The pain usually differs, depending on whether you lose a parent, a partner or spouse, a child, an unborn child or a companion in life. Losing a parent often creates feelings of abandonment and may make you feel more vulnerable to death yourself. When you loose a partner or spouse, you are no longer part of a couple and may feel alone and insecure. Guilt sometimes plays a part in the loss of a child because you may wrongly blame yourself for not saving your child. In the case of an unborn child, you may feel cheated of your hopes and dreams for the future. When you lose a companion in your life, whether siblings or other close relatives, friends, co-workers or beloved pets, the loss of closeness can be painful when grieving for them.

Loss affects people in different ways. It is not unusual to experience disbelief, anger, fear, guilt, physical problems and prolonged depression. Immediately after a death, it can be hard to accept what happened and some people may try to deny it, feel numb or in shock or even expect to see their loved one even though they know the person is gone. Anger may happen sometimes with the feeling that a loved one has deserted you. Or you may be angry about the unfairness of the death.

Death often forces people to face their own fear of dying. Others fear the uncertainty of life without their loved one. Guilt is normal when you regret things you might have said or done – or failed to say or do. Grief can take its toll on your health, causing weight loss or weight gain, anxiety, weakened ability to fight off disease or extreme lethargy. While deep sadness is a natural part of bereavement, grief may trigger a lasting depression for some people. Warning signs include lack of energy, thoughts of suicide or withdrawal from friends and family. Depression is a medical condition and it is important to seek professional assistance.

Grief may overwhelm you at first, but try not to neglect your own needs. It is important to maintain a healthy diet, get proper rest, avoid abusing alcohol or medications and stay active, both physically and mentally. You don’t have to go through bereavement alone. Many sources of support are available, including bereavement counselors, support groups, hospices, religious advisers and local mental health associations. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a positive step in the healing process. Healing takes time.

Additional articles on Healthy Aging are available from Colorado State University by visiting the Web at, clicking on Info Online, Consumer/Family then scrolling to Healthy Aging.