Coping with Loss

Loss is a normal part of life, which because does not happen on a daily basis may be an unfamiliar experience. The National Cancer Institute (2015) in the United States of America outlined common grief reactions, and they included: Emotional numbness, shock, disbelief, or denial. Anxiety over being separated from the loved one. This can include wanting to bring the person back and becoming lost in thoughts of the deceased. Images of death may occur often in the person’s everyday thoughts.

Similarly they outlined experiences such as distress that leads to crying; sighing; having dreams, illusions, and hallucinations of the deceased; and looking for places or things that were shared with the deceased, Anger, Periods of sadness, loss of sleep, loss of appetite, extreme tiredness, guilt, and loss of interest in life. Day-to-day living may be affected.

What is normal?

In normal grief, symptoms will occur less often and will feel less severe as time passes. Recovery does not happen in a set period of time. For most bereaved people having normal grief, symptoms lessen between 6 months and 2 years after the loss. Similarly many bereaved people will have grief bursts or pangs, which are short periods (20-30 minutes) of very intense distress. They might be caused by reminders or they may seem to happen for no reason (The National Cancer Institute, 2015).

Hall (2014) outlined that the idea that successful grieving requires ‘letting go’ is not necessarily true. Now rather than ‘saying goodbye’ or seeking closure, bereavement theorists suggest the possibility of the deceased being both present and absent can help the bereaved person rebuild meaning in their life.

Should I see a counsellor?

Schut and Stroebe (2005) found that routine intervention for bereavement has not received support from quantitative evaluations of its effectiveness and is therefore not empirically based. They stated that Intervention is more effective for those with more complicated forms of grief. (p. 140).

Similarly, Eisma and colleagues (2013) suggested that bereaved individuals with problematic grief and (chronic) rumination may benefit from therapy focused on countering avoidance tendencies.

If you are not sure, then asking a counsellor would be a good start. Some examples of when to consult might be if grief is interfering with your study, home life, work life or social life.

Assistance in this area and many others can be obtained through an appointment with the University of Melbourne Counselling Service, which offers free and confidential counselling to staff and students of the University. Phone: 8344 6927. Similarly, University of Melbourne Chaplaincy Service, has Chaplains of a variety of faith groups that are available to support all students at the University of Melbourne, you can find more information about contacting a Chaplin directly at their website or by phone: 8344 7566.

For telephone counselling assistance:

  • Life Line 13 11 14
  • Grief Line 9935 7444


Eisma, M. C., Stroebe, M. S., Schut, H. W., Stroebe, W., Boelen, P. A., & van den Bout, J. (2013). Avoidance processes mediate the relationship between rumination and symptoms of complicated grief and depression following loss. Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, (4), 961.

Hall, C. (2014). Bereavement theory: recent developments in our understanding of grief and bereavement. Bereavement Care, 33(1), 7-12 6p. doi:10.1080/02682621.2014.902610

Miller, E. T. (2015). The Grieving Process: A Necessary Step Toward Healing. Rehabilitation Nursing: The Official Journal Of The Association Of Rehabilitation Nurses, 40(4), 207-208. doi:10.1002/rnj.220

National Cancer Institute. (2015). PDQ grief, bereavement, and coping with loss. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated April 8, 2015. Retrieved from

Schut, H., & Stroebe, M. S. (2005). Interventions to Enhance Adaptation to Bereavement. Journal Of Palliative Medicine, 8s-140-s-147. doi:10.1089/jpm.2005.8.s-140