Grieving For Dummies®


by Greg Harvey, PhD

Foreword by Carol Schlesinger, LCSW




About the Author

Greg Harvey, the author of a slew of For Dummies books running the gamut from Excel For Dummies to The Origins of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth For Dummies, has had a long career of teaching business people the use of IBM PC, Windows, and Macintosh software application programs. From 1983 to 1988, he conducted hands-on computer software training for corporate business users with a variety of training companies. From 1988 to 1992, he taught university classes in Lotus 1-2-3 and Introduction to Database Management Technology (using dBASE) in the Department of Information Systems at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

In 2000, after starting graduate school, Greg began volunteering at Maitri, a 15-bed AIDS patient care facility located in San Francisco, California. As part of the Masters program, he took courses in Death and Dying and as part of his Doctorate program did his comprehensive exams in Death and Dying in Western and Eastern culture and religion. In 2003, he also received volunteer and group facilitator training at the Center for Attitudinal Healing in Sausalito, California, and began volunteering for their Home and Hospital Visitor program. In 2006, he received his PhD in Comparative Philosophy and Religion with a concentration on Asian Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, California.

Greg is currently a member of the American Academy of Bereavement, from which he received Bereavement Facilitator training, and the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC). He is also a patient care volunteer for Maitri AIDS Hospice in San Francisco, Sutter VNA and Hospice in Santa Rosa and a patient care, bereavement, and vigil volunteer at Hospice By The Bay in Marin County and San Francisco.



“For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.”

—Legolas to Gimli upon saying farewell to Lothlórien: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

This book is written especially for my life partner, Christopher Aiken, who continually inspires me to live each moment fully.

This book is dedicated to all the people and their families whom I’ve been privileged to support as a volunteer (and who always to teach me so much about life and love), along with the following fine and outstanding individuals: Helen Rose, Jerry and Jo Ann, Mike and Linda, Susan Dolder, Tara, Shandy, Maggie, Kimma, and Rudy, Carol, Diane, Hilda, Judith, Lynne, Penni, and Sharon.

It’s also dedicated to the memory of the following loved ones — both my own and those of many folks who supported this project — lost to us in this life but still found very much alive in our hearts:

Shane W. Gearing, Kenneth H. Harvey, M. Faye Harvey, Clyde B. Harvey, Olive Harvey, Charles (Pop) Pounds, Gertrude Pounds, Walter Harvey, Cornellia Harvey, Herschel Harvey, Edna Harvey, Paul Harvey, Lenora M. Harvey, Fern Grosvernor, Otis Grosvernor, Charles (Jr.) Pounds, Karen Stewardson, Penny, Juno, Nicky, Joshua, Chauncey, Ginger, Kelly, Seung Sahn Nim, Larry Peterson, Philip L. Manly, Hans, George H. Feltman, Mary Catherine Campbell, Margaret Rose O’Neil, Amada Lujan Rubio, Maximo G. Rubio, Marilyn Schlesinger, Dayton Schlesinger, Merlin, Pootey, Sophie, Pokey, Lucky, Scott Dorffman, Vernice Downing, Steve Durkee, Doreen Querido, and Anne Smith.


Author’s Acknowledgments

I am deeply indebted to the many folks who helped me complete this project through a combination of inspiration and support as well as a sharing of their insights and experience on death and grieving.

At Wiley Publishing, special thanks to Diane Steele, Grace Davis, Joyce Pepple, Lindsay Sandman Lefevere, Mike Baker, Tim Gallan, Katie Feltman, Elizabeth Rea, and Jennifer Theriot.

At Hospice By The Bay, very special thanks to Mary Taverna, Cheryl Wilkins, Kay McArthur, Ann Bednarczyk, Kathleen Carroll, and Carol Schlesinger.

At the International Institute of Attitudinal Healing, special thanks to Gerald Jampolsky, Jennifer Andrews, Trish Ellis, and Jimmy Peté.

At the American Academy of Bereavement, special thanks to my Bereavement Facilitator trainers, Jackson Rainer, Douglas Gross, Deidre Felton, and Marily Gryte.

In addition, special thanks to all the following people who contributed so much valuable feedback and support for this project: Melinda Bryant, Lynda Smith, Pam Tolbert, Shannon Taylor, Sharon Parr Taylor, Dr. Betty Carmack, Rev. and Dr. Gina Rose Halpern.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Senior Project Editor: Tim Gallan

Acquisitions Editor: Lindsay Sandman Lefevere

Senior Copy Editor: Elizabeth Rea

Technical Editor: Carol Schlesinger, LCSW

Editorial Manager: Christine Meloy Beck

Editorial Assistants: Erin Calligan Mooney, Joe Niesen, David Lutton, Leeann Harney

Cover Photo: © Ray Kachatorian/ The Image Bank/Getty Images

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Jennifer Theriot

Layout and Graphics: Claudia Bell, Carl Byers, Joyce Haughey, Stephanie D. Jumper

Anniversary Logo Design: Richard Pacifico

Proofreaders: Aptara, Todd Lothery

Indexer: Aptara

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services



H ere you are holding this book, so maybe you’re not a dummy after all: What you’re starting to realize is that life involves loss. Perhaps you’ve experienced the death of a loved one, or someone you love has and you want to help. Now what?

Different parts of the world look at this unsettling fact, well, in lots of different ways. But one thing is sure: Loss is here to stay as long as you stick around for this wild ride we call life. So one of the things that is real too is this stuff called grief. Though this fact is far from universally acknowledged, I’m here to tell you that grief is a natural, universal response to loss. You may be holding this book because you’re finding it harder than usual to live your life, maybe even feeling like you’re going a little (or a lot) crazy. All these other folks are walking around like nothing big has happened, and here you are maybe thinking something really big has happened and you don’t know what to do with all the yuck you’re feeling — the numbness, shock, overwhelming rage, waves of sobbing, relief, disbelief. Maybe you’re not even sure if you can go on or, on a really bad day, whether you even want to. It’s normal!

As Greg says, illness, accidents, incidents of violence, dying, and death aren’t as cool to talk about around the water cooler happy hour as the Super Bowl, 24, American Idol, stock market ups and downs, the latest electronics, and so forth. Let’s face it: Loss and grief just aren’t sexy. As a matter of fact, they’re taboo, the old clichéd elephant in the room, and there isn’t much opportunity for someone like you to learn what to do when you lose someone (or when you want to help someone else who’s suffered a loss). You may feel it’s like an earthquake in your life, and not only don’t you know what to do, you feel ashamed and wonder what’s wrong with you if you can’t suck it up, get over it, and move on.

Hang in there. This grief thing is doable, and here are a few tips right off: Take it one day at a time (or one hour or one minute or one second), be gentle with yourself by cutting yourself some slack, take as good care of yourself as you can (eat, rest, take a walk around the block, get some respite from the grief), and accept that if ever in your life you need support, it’s around a profound loss, so find the strength to ask for some. The Buddha once said that one could travel all around the world and never find anyone more worthy of compassion than oneself. Yeah, that means even you. You’ll discover that grief can affect us in a global way: It has emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, and behavioral aspects. You’ll also discover that grieving is a process, it takes time, and, oh dear, no one can fix it. You do need to go through it. And no one can tell you how long that will take. One of the most common things I hear is “This is hard and painful and I don’t like it; so when am I going to feel better?” I wish I could say that you’ll feel better on July 2 at 3:30 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the real answer is that grieving is a nonlinear process and will take however long it takes. The grief is going to shift and get easier, even though right now that seems impossible. This book has lots of information that will help you make sense of this rollercoaster ride you’re on.

In our culture, more than a few of us are uncomfortable around grieving people because they remind us that we’re mortal, that things change, that loss is inevitable; it might even be catching, and we don’t want to believe it can happen to us. For you wonderful people who still want to help someone you love through their grief and feel helpless because you don’t know what to do or say, you’re not alone. Greg has lots of good ideas and also alerts us to some common clichés that are less than helpful. The best suggestions I can offer are to relax, know you can’t fix it, and be the best nonjudgmental listener you can be. We often underestimate the gift of a loving presence: our own.

Loss is a powerful teacher. The more you can be present with what is going on with you, the better off you’ll be in the long run. We have a great capacity to learn and grow, to love and be kind. So go ahead, get as comfortable as you can, perhaps put your feet up, and start to read this thoughtful and caring book. May you find comfort and peace.

—Carol Schlesinger, LCSW, Bereavement Services Coordinator




About This Book

Foolish Assumptions

What You’re Not to Read

Conventions Used in This Book

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I : Contemplating Grief

Chapter 1: Connecting Grieving with Loss

Grieving as a Natural Response to Loss

Grieving as a Totally Personal Process

Dealing with Loss in a Highly Competitive World

How Fear of Loss and Death Impact Grieving

We’re All Bozos on the Grief Bus

Searching for Meaning in the Midst of Sorrow

Chapter 2: Relating Grief to the Manner of Death

The Impact of an Anticipated Loss

Grieving a Sudden Loss

Grieving a Death by Suicide

Resources to Help You Deal with Different Kinds of Death

Chapter 3: The Loss of Parents

Looking at Parental Roles

The Loss of Grandparents as One’s Initial Experience with Grief

Exploring the Impact of Losing Parents

Helping the Surviving Parent

Resources for Healing the Loss of a Parent

Chapter 4: The Loss of Spouses and Partners

Love, Companionship, and Partnership

The Impact of Losing Your Spouse

The Practical and Spiritual Aspects of Partner Loss

Keeping Your Love Alive

Resources for Healing Partner Loss

Chapter 5: The Loss of Siblings

The Pain and Pleasure of Siblings

Exploring the Impact of Losing a Sibling

Helping the Surviving Siblings Grieve

Resources for Healing the Loss of a Sibling

Chapter 6: The Loss of Children

The Cruelest Loss of All

Exploring the Impact of Losing a Child

The Impact of a Child’s Death on the Parents’ Relationship

Resources for Healing the Loss of a Child

Chapter 7: Children and Grief

Helping Children Understand Death

Understanding How Children Grieve

Helping Your Child Grieve

Adolescents and Grief

Resources for Guiding a Child through Grief

Chapter 8: The Loss of Friends

The Importance of Friends

Exploring the Impact of Losing Friends

Dealing with the Difficulties of Grieving a Friend

Resources for Healing the Loss of Friends

Chapter 9: The Loss of Pets

Always There for You

Exploring the Impact of Losing a Pet

Dealing with Regrets over End-of-Life Decisions

Grieving a Pet Loss in an Unsympathetic World

Resources for Healing Pet Loss

Part II : Experiencing Grief

Chapter 10: Doing Your Own Grief Crisis Management

Handling the News

Surviving the Grip of New Grief

Taking Good Care of Yourself

Giving Yourself Permission to Grieve

Forgiving Yourself and Everyone Else

Knowing When You Need to Share and When You Need to Be Alone

Chapter 11: Working through the Process of Grief

The Five Stages of Loss

The Four Tasks of Mourning

The Six “R” Processes of Mourning

Chapter 12: Troubled Grieving

Relating Trauma and Grief

Recognizing Traumatic Losses

Identifying Complicated Grieving

Typical Ways of Avoiding Grieving

Strategies for Jump-starting Your Grieving

Chapter 13: When Someone You Care About Is Suffering Acute Grief

What to Say to Someone in Acute Grief

How to Listen to Someone Who’s Grieving

Other Ways to Support a Bereaved Friend

Being Sensitive to the Factors That Affect Grieving

Part III : Healing Grief

Chapter 14: Expressing Your Grief

Typical Grief Experiences

Expressing Your Grief

Releasing Your Grief

Getting Help Expressing Your Grief

Chapter 15: Exploring the Physical Side of Grief

The Relationship between the Mental and Physical Aspects of Grief

Soothing Therapies

Pursuing Transformative Bodywork

Practicing Meditative Body Movement

Physical Exercise

Going with Nontraditional Body Therapies

Chapter 16: Coping with Holidays and Anniversaries

Why Holidays Can Be Difficult

Dealing with the End-of-the-Year Holidays

Dealing with the Rest of the Holidays

Surviving Anniversaries

Creating Your Own Holiday and Anniversary Celebrations

Part IV : Appreciating Grief

Chapter 17: Exploring Grief in the Spiritual Traditions

Death’s Vital Role in Spiritual Traditions

Secular Society and Death

Death in Judaism

Death in Christian Traditions

Death in Islam

Death in Hinduism

Death in the Various Buddhist Traditions

Venerating the Dead in Chinese Culture

Celebrating the Dead in Hispanic Culture

Melding Deep Ecology and Daoism to Create a New Spiritual Approach to Death

Chapter 18: Integrating the Loss

Incorporating the Loss into Your Life

Being Transformed by Grief

Chapter 19: Commemorating Those You’ve Lost

Remembering Your Loved One

Memorializing Your Loved One

Performing Memorial Ceremonies

Undertaking a Living Legacy of Service

Part V : The Part of Tens

Chapter 20: Top Ten Clichés about Grieving

I Know How You Feel

You’re Never Given Anything That You Can’t Deal With

Time Heals All Wounds

Don’t Dwell on It

Don’t Feel Bad

It’s Time for You to Move On

It’s Probably All for the Best

It’s in the Natural Order of Things

He Lived a Full Life

Be Grateful You Had Him with You for So Long

Chapter 21: Top Ten Ways to Help Someone Who’s Grieving

Just Listen

Don’t Worry about Saying the Wrong Thing

Be Okay with Having Nothing to Say

Be Honest

Hold Any Judgments

Dump Clichés and Worn-Out Platitudes

Don’t Try to Fix It

Be Mindful of the Effects of Touch

Try Not to Change the Subject

Don’t Push an Agenda

Chapter 22: Top Ten or So Online Bereavement Resources

The International Center for Attitudinal Healing

The Bereavement Journey

Hospice Net: Bereavement

Living with Loss Magazine and Bereavement Publications

The Bereavement Group

Bereavement Camps

Coping with Loss: Guide to Grieving and Bereavement

Frequently Asked Questions on Grief and Grieving

AARP: Grief and Loss

Chapter 23: Ten Meditations Related to Grief

Breathing through Your Pain

Softening Your Aching Heart

Reflecting on the Universal Nature of Change

Considering the Widespread Nature of Loss

Reflecting on the Timeless Aspect of Love

Practicing Lovingkindness

Holding a Lost Loved One in Your Heart

Extending Your Compassion to All

Saying Your Goodbyes

Saying “Thank You” to Grief

: Further Reading


Unfortunately, grieving the loss of a loved one isn’t an optional human activity. Only those who never get the opportunity to love or who die too young are spared this uniquely painful experience. Yet despite its widespread nature, grieving is far from understood and very far from being appreciated in any way in modern society.

For the most part, grieving probably makes us so uncomfortable because it’s a concrete reminder of our human mortality and the great fear of death. However, that isn’t the sole reason that grieving is so misunderstood that it’s barely tolerated and completely underrated; the other big reason for undervaluing grief is that loss of any kind runs completely counter to the major driv- ing force of modern life, which is the idea of gain. People are driven to always be gaining something, whether it’s an increase of material possessions, power, and control, or knowledge and skill.

In this book, I attempt to counter this significantly shortsighted attitude toward grieving by presenting it neither as the most tragic process nor the most uplifting one that you can undergo in life. Rather, I see grieving as being somewhere right in the middle of these two extremes.

On the one hand, grieving is truly a tremendously difficult and trying process; it’s one that seems to have the power to crush people with its overwhelming emotions. On the other hand, however, grieving is a tremendously transformative process; it’s one that seems to have the power to teach people more about appreciating love than they ever thought was possible in life.

My sincere wish is that this little book on grieving is able to shed light on what, up to now, you may have considered a totally mysterious and foreboding process. In the last analysis, grieving is nothing more or less than finding the way that you can come to grips with and abide the permanent separation of a loved one. And in taking this solemn and sacred journey, it’s my great hope that you come to a deeper appreciation of the love you shared and, instead of seeing that love as forever lost, you come to an understanding that enables you to keep that love alive in your life all the rest of your days.

About This Book

This book is comprehensive in the sense that it addresses all types of profound loss — specifically defined as the loss of a loved one that results in extended and serious grieving. Therefore, the book doesn’t address the grief that comes from suffering any other kinds of loss such as losing your home as a result of some sort of disaster, losing your job, or breaking up with a lover (all of which are traumatic in various ways and produce their own levels of grief).

With one exception, profound loss involves the death of the loved one as the catalyst for the grief and the cause of your grieving. The sole exception is divorce, in which you lose a spouse and grieve the loss without the trauma of your partner’s death.

In this book, I approach the process of grieving the loss of a loved one from the following perspectives:

bullet Grieving is a natural human response to profound loss — it isn’t some sort of mental disorder or other malady that requires curing.

bullet People grieve in their own highly individual ways on their own personal timetables.

bullet In most cases, grieving does not require any kind of medical intervention, although it can benefit from support from family and friends as well as professional grief counselors and support groups.

bullet Grieving can be facilitated through a combination of efforts on the part of the person suffering the loss and outside support.

bullet Grieving comes to an end when the person suffering the loss is able to make sense of the loss and incorporate it into the rest of his life.

Foolish Assumptions

This book is written specifically for two kinds of people: those who are in the midst of grieving the loss of a loved one and those who, as close friends, want to support these people in their grieving.

If you’re grieving a loss of a loved one, I’ll bet some or all of the following assumptions apply to you in your present situation:

bullet Your emotions are very volatile and all over the place.

bullet You feel pretty alone and hopeless during the worst times.

bullet You’re worried that all this emotional upheaval will be more than you can handle.

bullet You’re concerned that you’ll never see the end of this emotional upheaval.

If you’re supporting a close friend who’s grieving, I’d venture that some or all of these assumptions apply to you:

bullet You very much want to help your bereaved friend but are very uncertain what you can do in this situation to help.

bullet You’re not all that comfortable with death and aren’t sure if your discomfort will hinder or prevent you from being an effective source of support.

bullet You’re unsure how best to approach someone who’s grieving, and you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing.

bullet Your experience with grieving your own profound losses is fairly limited or nonexistent.

If you find that some or most (or even all) of my foolish assumptions apply to you as the person grieving or a supporting friend, then I’m sure that you’ll find some very helpful information and advice in the chapters of this book. These are the very conjectures that I address throughout Grieving For Dummies.

What You’re Not to Read

If you’re looking for just need-to-know information and want to skip a few text that isn’t essential, you can easily ignore any sidebars (the gray shaded boxes) and paragraphs tagged by the Technical Stuff icon. Sidebars contain tangents and anecdotes that aren’t germane to the main discussion, and Technical Stuff paragraphs present minutia that not everyone is going to be interested in.

Conventions Used in This Book

The following conventions are religiously followed throughout the text in the hopes that they make the text easier to decipher:

bullet The masculine singular pronoun in all its forms (he, his, and him) is used throughout the text when talking about people in general. (I hate playing the he/she pronoun game.)

bullet Web addresses appear in monofont.

bullet New terms appear in italic type when first introduced in the text.

bullet Numbered steps and the main parts of bulleted items appear in boldface type.

How This Book Is Organized

You can use Grieving For Dummies in one of two ways: Pick and choose the topics that look like they pertain to your particular situation and will be of the most help, or read the book from start to finish.

Assuming that you’re not all that interested in the subject of grieving and that your time and energy are limited, I suggest that you go with the pick-and-choose method. To help you more quickly locate the topics of interest to you, I summarize the contents of the book’s five parts in the following sections.

Part I: Contemplating Grief

Part I contains the nitty-gritty on loss and grief. Chapter 1 introduces the relationship between loss and grief and the factors in modern life that make grieving a little more difficult than it has to be. Chapter 2 presents an investigation on how the manner of death impacts the grieving process. Chapters 3 through 6 and Chapters 8 and 9 cover particular types of losses: parents, spouses and partners, siblings, children, friends, and pets. Chapter 7 deals with the very special topic of how children typically deal with profound loss and how best to support them through their grieving.

Part II: Experiencing Grief

Part II contains practical information on how to deal with the emotional upheaval that grieving tends to bring. Chapter 10 is the grieving person’s first-aid kit for dealing with the emotional upsurges and other problems during the initial, acute phase of grieving. Chapter 13, on the other hand, is the first-aid kit for those supporting a grieving friend; it’s full of advice on what you can do to help and how to avoid hindering this process at all cost.

Chapter 11 investigates the common stages of grieving as they’ve been defined by various top-notch experts working in the field of human bereavement. Chapter 12 then deals with the subject of complicated or problematic grieving by investigating the factors that indicate your grieving process is either temporarily stuck in a particular stage or is off track and in some real trouble.

Part III: Healing Grief

Part III contains more practical information about the grieving process and how you can help it along. Chapter 14 takes a long look at ways that you can fully and freely express and release your feelings of grief. Chapter 15 then looks at the physical aspects of grief with an eye toward releasing some of the frustration and sorrow through a wide array of different physical activities. Chapter 16 examines challenges that holidays and anniversaries present to you after suffering the death of a loved one; it contains suggestions on strategies to adopt to help you survive these special and now particularly painful days.

Part IV: Appreciating Grief

Part IV looks at the end of the grieving process and the factors that may help bring it to a successful close. Chapter 17 examines the spiritual side of grief by investigating the ways that major religious and cultural traditions assign meaning to death. Chapter 18 then investigates the vital topic of giving meaning to the loss and becoming reconciled to it so that you can successfully incorporate it into the rest of your life. Chapter 19 concludes this part on appreciating grief with an examination of the many ways that you can commemorate the one you’ve lost and grieved so that you can keep the love you shared alive in your life.

Part V: The Part of Tens

The Part of Tens is a smorgasbord of practical tidbits for those grieving and those supporting them. Chapter 20 contains my top-ten list of crass clichés and platitudes about grief and grieving. This chapter not only tells you what the clichés are but also why they’re so unhelpful to folks grieving a profound loss (even when they’re partially or completely true). Chapter 21 contains my top-ten list of things you should do to help support someone you care about who’s currently grieving a profound loss. Chapter 22 contains a list of ten online resources that you can consult to get more information about grieving as well as direct support from other people grieving a similar loss. Chapter 23 concludes this part and, indeed, the entire book with ten meditations related to grieving. These are guided contemplations that you can do as a bereaved person to appreciate your loss and alleviate some of the grief associated with it.

Icons Used in This Book

The following four icons are used throughout this book to highlight information worthy of some sort of special attention:


This icon indicates a noteworthy tidbit of information to keep in mind about grieving or grief.


This icon indicates a suggested course of action that may help facilitate your grieving or the support of someone who is grieving.


This icon indicates a course of action you may want to avoid — it may interfere with grieving or make it more difficult.


This icon indicates some nonessential information about grieving or grief that you may find helpful nonetheless.

Where to Go from Here

This book is organized so that you can jump in and start wherever you need to; you really don’t need to start at the beginning and work your way through each chapter.

If you’re currently in the throes of grieving the loss of a loved one, I suggest that you go directly to Chapter 10, which addresses doing your own grief crisis management. Then look up the chapter in Part I for the particular type of loss you’ve suffered before finding other chapters that seem pertinent and potentially helpful.

If you’re supporting a close friend who’s grieving the loss of a loved one, I suggest that you go to Chapter 13, which covers helping someone you care about who’s grieving. Then check out Chapter 21 on ten things you can do to support someone else before you go about finding other chapters with information that seems relevant to your friend’s particular situation.

Part I

Contemplating Grief

In this part . . .

Before you can do anything about grief, you must know what you’re dealing with. In this part, you find out about the relationship between loss and grief along with details on what different kinds of profound losses — from the death of parents to the loss of pets — mean to people who have sustained them. In addition, you discover how the manner of death can impact and complicate the grieving.