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Wills and estate planning

How to cope with death

The death of a friend or family member can be so overwhelming for those left behind that it can have a long-term impact on their physical, emotional and mental health.

While most people agree that there's no one right way to grieve, there are certain stages and symptoms that people tend to feel at some point after experiencing a loss.

Understanding some of the emotions you might feel after a loved one passes may help you navigate the grieving process.

Different stages of grief

In the late 1960s, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross suggested an idea for five different stages that those who are grieving go through. While not every person grieves the same way nor goes through the same stages in the same order, Ross came up with her idea of five stages based on studies that were conducted of patients facing terminal illness.

  1. Denial - The first of the five stages, denial is a defense mechanism that helps us survive the loss by putting people in a state of shock.

  2. Anger - While grief at first may feel like being lost at sea, the onset of anger can be helpful because it shows that we're feeling connected in some way again, even if that means feeling anger toward friends, family or even strangers.

  3. Bargaining - Grievers in the bargaining stage often use statements that start with “If only…," or “What if…," as a way to imagine life returning to what it used to be or to change circumstances that can't be altered in reality.

  4. Depression - In the depression stage, many people feel a deep overwhelming sadness that feels like it will last forever.

  5. Acceptance - Those in this final stage have finally accepted that their loved one is gone and have learned how to live without their physical presence.

In addition to these five stages, people who are grieving often feel a range of additional emotions. Many times, it depends on the situation at hand. For example, the loss of a parent might bring up feelings of abandonment, especially if the son or daughter is young, whereas the long-term effects for a parent who has lost a child are significant and can accompany unique feelings of guilt and anxiety.

How to recognize the physical symptoms of grief 

In addition to emotional trauma, grief elicits physical symptoms in those who are suffering from the loss of a loved one. Research shows that grief is a stressor on the body that can cause harmful inflammation. Physical symptoms of grief can include:

  • Severe weight loss or weight gain

  • Insomnia or sleeping more than usual

  • Fatigue

  • Suffering from repeated colds

  • Racing thoughts

  • Chest pain

  • Nausea

  • Headaches

If you have experienced any of these symptoms after a death of a loved one, consider discussing them with your doctor, especially symptoms that are ongoing and hurting your day-to-day functioning. Your doctor can rule out any underlying causes and provide treatment for managing your physical discomforts.

Ways to deal with the grieving process

Everyone will experience grief at some point in life. It will never be easy, but there are healthy ways to cope as you journey through the grieving process.

  • Rest - Studies show that rest and sleep can help us think more clearly, make us more attentive and regulate mood. This is especially helpful during the grieving process, when emotions seesaw at a moment's notice, from anger to depression.

  • Time in nature - Spending time in nature can be incredibly calm and healing. A walk in the park, either alone or with friends, can be a great way to get sunshine and fresh air.

  • Support groups and therapy - Support groups provide an opportunity to share and process your grief with others. In addition, talk therapy can be so effective that it works as well as antidepressants to improve depression symptoms, studies show.

  • Medication - Working with a doctor to find the right medication can also be helpful in times of grief.

  • Celebrate your loved one - Making a donation in your loved one's name to a charity or framing photos of them in your home can also help heal your grief in a productive way.

How to file a life insurance or annuity claim

In addition to the emotional aspects of grief, handling complicated and expensive financial and legal details may seem daunting. It's important to begin following up on financial claims as soon as possible to ensure quick disbursement.

Here are some steps that will help you get started.

  • Step 1: Notify the right parties - To do so, you will need the numbers of all applicable policies, a birth date, a death date, the cause of death as well as Social Security information for your loved one.

  • Step 2: File claims - Before preparing to file claims, such as for life insurance or for accidental death insurance, you will need copies of the deceased's death certificate.

  • Step 3: Receive funds - Most policies will offer you a choice of how to receive funds (a one-time payment versus an extended period, for example). Having life insurance is incredibly important because it provides protection for your family and home in the event of your death and helps them avoid financial hardship.

  • Step 4: Hire a financial planner - Hiring a financial planner is a safe way to gain control of your finances, especially if you've lost a parent or spouse who was responsible for most of your joint financial planning. Learn how financial planning can benefit you and your family.

Want to learn more? Explore these additional grief resources and information about filing a death claim.


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All Learning Center articles are general summaries that can be used when considering your financial future at various life stages. The information presented is for educational purposes and is meant to supplement other information specific to your situation. It is not intended as investment advice and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Protective Life or its subsidiaries.

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