Coping with Loss

Key Facts
  • Losing someone you care about is always hard.
  • Talking with a trusted adult and finding healthy ways to cope will help.
  • The best way to help a friend is to listen and offer support.
  • Esta guía en Español
  • Young men's version of this guide

depressed girl

Loss is a part of life that becomes more common as you move out of childhood into your teenage years and adulthood. Losing someone or something important to you is never easy, but it can help to learn more about what loss is, how it can affect you, and how to deal with it in healthy and healing ways.

What is loss?

There are many different kinds of loss that affect people. Death is probably the first kind of loss that comes to mind, but a loss is often experienced when relationships end in other ways, such as divorce, a move, or an illness. In fact, any change can lead to feelings of loss; an older brother or sister going off to college, a parent losing a job, a grandparent moving into a nursing home, or a world event that threatens your feeling of security. Many young people experience their first loss when a pet dies. As a teenager, your friendships and relationships are becoming more and more important, and break-ups and changing friendships can be experienced as loss too.

What does loss feel like?

How a person reacts to loss depends on many things, and it can feel different for everyone. How close was the relationship? Was the loss expected or sudden? If the loss involves a death, was the death from an illness or caused by an accident or act of violence? What impact does your loss have on your day-to-day life or future plans? If you’ve already experienced a loss, each new loss can sometimes bring up painful feelings and memories.

It’s normal for your reaction to loss to change over time. An important part of the healing process is feeling and accepting the emotions that come as a result of the loss. At first you might have a feeling of numbness. You might also experience denial, which means that it doesn’t feel like the loss really happened. After you have accepted that the loss is real, it’s common to experience all kinds of very powerful feelings such as anger and extreme sadness. It’s also common to feel guilt in response to a loss, as if you could have done something to prevent the loss, or you should have been more caring or thoughtful before the loss happened. All of these feelings are normal.

It may take a long time, but you will eventually come to accept the loss. Over time, your feelings will become less intense. Nothing, not even time, can change the fact that you’ve had a loss, but you can get back to your daily routine. No one can say exactly how long it will take, but give yourself time, and you’ll start to feel better each day.

Is there any way to avoid the painful feelings?

Painful feelings are always part of loss, but there are some things that can help you get through the experience. One of the most important things to remember is to take care of your health by eating, getting enough rest, and avoiding drugs and alcohol. If possible, try not to make any major decisions until you are feeling better, since you probably aren’t thinking as clearly as you usually are. Expressing your feelings through talking, writing, music, art, or some other form of expression is often helpful. It can also help to stick to your usual daily routines. It’s important to be patient with yourself. While it’s impossible to predict exactly how you’ll respond to a loss and how long the feelings will last, in most cases, people are able to adjust to loss and eventually move ahead with their lives.

What can I do to help someone through a loss?

Although it may not sound like much, just “being there” is the most important thing you can do to help someone who is coping with loss. It may feel uncomfortable to be around someone who is experiencing something so difficult. You may feel helpless because there’s nothing you can do to take away the pain. However, listening to the person’s feelings, sharing memories, and helping with everyday things such as preparing meals and doing errands can be extremely helpful. Sometimes people find it helpful to go to counseling or to join support groups for people experiencing similar losses. For someone who has suffered a loss, the presence of friends is an important reminder that the loss is only one part of his or her life, and that they’re not all alone.

What if I don’t start to feel better?

It’s important to get professional help if you feel like you can’t cope with the loss on your own.

If you or a friend experiences any of the following, it’s time to get professional help:

  • Spending a lot of time alone, instead of with friends and family
  • Having changes in eating or sleeping habits, or lack of interest in normal, daily activities
  • Using drugs and alcohol to numb your feelings
  • Doing risky things that you usually wouldn’t do
  • Feeling like you want to harm yourself in any way

Anyone who feels that the pain from a loss is too much to handle should think about talking to a professional such as a school counselor, psychologist, social worker, or clergy person. These people can be helpful if you feel that you are having trouble getting over a loss.

The most important things to remember about coping with loss are:

  • Be patient with yourself
  • Find healthy ways to let your feelings out
  • Let people who are close to you offer their support
  • See a counselor if you feel like you could use help getting through your loss