Grief Management After a Nurse's Death

Judy E. Davidson, DNP, RN, MCCM, FAAN; Rachael Accardi, MA, LMFT; Courtney Sanchez, LCSW; Sidney Zisook, MD


Am Nurs Journal. 2019;14(11):30-32, 47. 

In This Article

Grief: What to Expect

Grief is a universal, natural, adaptive, and instinctual reaction to the loss of a person who's important in our lives. The acute manifestations of grief can span from barely noticeable discomfort and dysfunction to gut-wrenching pain and distress.

An acute grief response occurs in the early aftermath of the death. It can include shock, anguish, loss, anger, guilt, regret, anxiety, fear, intrusive images, depersonalization, feeling overwhelmed, loneliness, unhappiness, relief, and depression. At first, feelings of anguish and despair may seem ever-present but soon occur in waves or bursts (bouts of grief that initially are unprovoked and later are brought on by specific reminders of the deceased). Those who've never experienced the intense, uncontrollable emotionality of acute grief may find it disconcerting, shameful, or frightening. Some people may try to avoid reminders in what is frequently a misguided attempt to shield themselves from pain. Others may become disinterested in activities of daily life, focusing only on mourning.

For most of the bereaved, the pain and preoccupation with the person who has died gradually become less frequent and intense, wounds begin to heal, and they once again engage in pleasurable and satisfying relationships and activities. For some, however, a loved one's death may trigger depression (especially in someone with a past history of major depressive disorder), post-traumatic stress disorder (especially if the death is sudden, unanticipated, or traumatic, such as death by suicide), or prolonged grief disorder or complicated grief in which the natural adaptation to loss is blocked and grief remains intense, preoccupying, and disabling beyond the time expected by social and cultural norms.