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Processing the Symptoms of Grief

Grief comes in waves of expression that vary in order, intensity and duration. A roller coaster ride of feelings experienced during a grief process is normal. Grief itself is a bewildering collection of normal human emotions and feelings. It is important to remember that grief is normal and healthy. Everyone does not go through the grief process in the same order or necessarily experience all of the emotional responses or feelings named below. Each person has his/her own pattern for grieving loss and death.

Emotions You May Feel

  • Anger — "I want to punch something."
  • Bargaining — "If you give me my child back, I will be the best mother ever."
  • Bitterness — "It's not fair."
  • Busyness — "If I just keep moving, I won't have time to think about it."
  • Crying 
  • Denial — "It's not that my child is gone. She just transitioned."
  • Depression — "I just want to sleep my life away."
  • Despair — "There is no hope."
  • Difficulty making decisions — "Should we move or stay here forever?"
  • Emptiness — "I  have nothing left to give."
  • Envy — "It's not fair he gets to be a dad. He doesn't ever even leave the office to spend time with his kids."
  • Fear/anxiety — "I have to watch my daughter constantly, so nothing will ever harm her."
  • Frustration — "I'm so sick of all this paperwork."
  • Guilt — "If I had just held him in my arms all night, this never would've happened."
  • Hatred — "I hate life."
  • Helplessness — "I don't know what to do."
  • Hope — "I just smiled a real smile. Maybe one day I'll be okay."
  • Idealization — "She was the perfect little child. Always happy."
  • Isolation — "No one understands what I'm going through."
  • Life meaning/purpose — "What is life even all about?"
  • Loneliness — "My mind is trapped in a dark hole, even with everyone around."
  • Longing/missing — "If only I could hold him just one more time."
  • New images/relationships — "I feel like I finally met someone who isn't trying to fix my grief."
  • Numbness — "I can't feel anything."
  • Physical/somatic responses — "My stomach hurts all the time."
  • Preoccupation with image of loved one — "Look at her perfect little face."
  • Questions of why — "Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?"
  • Sadness — "I can't stop crying."
  • Shock/disbelief — "I can't believe this really happened. I keep waiting to wake up from this nightmare."
  • Values clarification — "All that's really important in life is spending time with the people you love."

Physical/Somatic Responses and Depression

You may find yourself undergoing actual physical distress (somatism), which can come in waves lasting from twenty minutes to an hour. A wave can be triggered by mention of the baby, by seeing a pregnant person, or  by seeing another baby. You might have crying spells or lose your appetite. You may have trouble sleeping and concentrating. You may feel tightness in your throat or feel numb to all that is occurring around you. Days may seem to run together and for a time it may be hard to recall the visitors you’ve seen. Just to get up and get going each morning may be a chore. Daily routines and patterns of conduct may be turned upside down. 

The Dangers of Busyness

Working overtime, immersing yourself in household tasks, jogging and staying busy may represent your attempts to avoid silent, empty spaces in time. This “busyness” can be helpful if it allows you to release pent up sorrow and emotions. But extreme “busyness” can be counterproductive to your grief.


You may be preoccupied with images, memories, fantasies or dreams of your child. Feeling your baby move in your womb after you have delivered, hearing your baby cry who was stillborn, or getting up in the middle of the night to feed your child who died from SIDS are examples of experiences commonly felt by parents who have had a child die. You may wonder if you are going crazy. Be reassured you are not crazy; it is normal to experience such disorientation and confusion for a while. It is an unconscious attempt to block out your tragedy. This will recede in time, too.


“Why couldn’t the doctors save my baby? They should have known what to do."

“My child had just been to the doctor and was fine. How can she/he be dead now?”

“Why did God let my baby die?”

“What have I ever done that was so bad that God would take my baby?”

These statements reflect some of the anger and blame felt when an untimely death occurs. At times this blame may be directed toward medical personnel, your spouse, other family members or God. Seeing other mothers may cause you to feel intense distress. You may be surprised at strong feelings of hostility. Anger turned inward often results in depression, lack of energy and an attitude of “I don’t care.” At this time, it is important for you to be able to talk about and understand your anger and to find ways to intentionally and safely express it.


"I should have noticed the baby was not moving sooner.”

After an infant or child’s death, guilt may be expressed in such statements as, “If only I would have…” “Why didn’t I…?” and “This never would have happened if only I had….” Your feelings of guilt may be intense because you feel that you failed to protect your child from death.

Decision-making and Values Clarification

Decisions may seem monumental as you struggle with everyday tasks such as your first trip to the grocery store, to church, or synagogue or mosque, to a friend’s house or to the shopping mall. You may question many of your previously held values and goals. Your faith may be severely tested. It is important to remain in dialogue with God, whoever or however you imagine your deity to be. Often your prayer may be, “I don’t like what has happened.” Your faith can help you through this time, and expressing doubts and feelings aid in processing what you are experiencing.

Emptiness, Loneliness and Isolation

You may have times when you feel extremely empty and long desperately for your child. Grief in itself is isolating. The ways that our culture deals with death and grief separate and cut people off to an even greater extent. Death and loss is acknowledged for only a brief period of time, usually not even long enough for the mourner to get to the place of truly realizing that the loved one is not going to come back or be born alive and well. Often you lose friends that you thought you had much in common with and find that others you did not know that well come to your side offering support and comfort in ways that help you survive.

Mood Swings and the Emergence of a New Self

Your emotions and moods may take many upward and downward swings. These may occur many times during any given day. You may be able to identify what you feel triggered the emotional upheaval or it may seem to come out of nowhere. By making the effort to face into your pain and grief and do the most difficult work that is required, as time passes, you will learn to integrate this beloved child who has died into your life by creating a space inside where his/her memory lives on. Never will your life be the same as it was. You will not forget your child. You will be able to face the days of your life without the excruciating and debilitating pain that you felt initially. Gone forever is your naive sense of safety that these types of things happen to other families, but not to yours.