Losing a friend or loved one is always difficult and may sometimes be traumatic. Whether your best friend or spouse passes away after a long illness or you lose a battle buddy in combat, grieving is painful. There is no “right” way to respond to losing a friend or relative—it’s an extremely personal response that is unique to you and the nature of your loss—but in today’s busy world, it can sometimes be difficult to fully process your grief.
Some Veterans experience traumatic grief following the sudden loss of someone very close to them or after witnessing multiple casualties, like in a combat situation or natural disaster. You may have lost a friend in your unit and you keep thinking about what you could have done to prevent it. Or, maybe you are filled with anger at others whom you feel caused the death. Perhaps you have lost your spouse or someone who has been part of your life for a long time.
Grieving is a natural reaction to the death of someone close to you. A wide range of responses is common after the loss of a friend or loved one. You may experience any of the following:
“I felt like it was time for me to move on after losing my best friend, but there was such an empty hole in my life. I didn’t see how I’d ever feel happy again.”
- Feeling numb and being distracted
- Yearning for the person you lost or your old way of life
- Being angry and irritable
- Feeling very tired or having trouble sleeping
- Distancing yourself from certain people or becoming much closer to others
- Becoming more quiet than usual
- Feeling like you aren't the same person you were before your friend or loved one died
- Questioning your faith or struggling with spiritual questions
- Having conflicting emotions such as feeling despair as well as relief
- Wanting to end your life and join the person who died
What should I keep an eye out for after the loss of a friend or family member?
“I didn’t know it at the time but the people around me had to bear the brunt of what I was feeling after we lost those guys in my unit. When I wasn’t staying away from everyone, I would snap at the littlest things.”
For most people, grieving is a difficult time, but life begins to improve after a few weeks. However, some people experience grief in ways that make it difficult to carry on with normal life. If you can’t sleep for a long period of time or feel agitated, unsettled, or hopeless for more than a couple of weeks, you may want to reach out for help with the grieving process. If you have a chronic medical condition that’s become worse because of the emotional and physical stress of grief, you should contact your doctor right away.
What can I do after losing a friend or family member?
Getting support from friends and family, and making sure to eat right and to exercise are usually the best ways to take care of yourself for however long it takes to work through your grief.
After the death of a family member or friend, try to remember to:
“I didn’t leave the house for a week after my wife passed away. She’d been with me since I got back from combat and supported me through the worst of it. Talking to my pastor helped a lot though. He reminded me that she wouldn’t have wanted me to come this far just to break down now.”
- Take care of your health and eat well
- Let others help you
- Exercise to release stress
- Talk with friends, especially those close to the person or who understand the situation
- Speak with a spiritual or religious advisor or chaplain
- Focus on how the person lived and not how he or she passed away
- Express how you feel
- Rest and get enough sleep
- Avoid quick fixes that you may think will help you cope, like drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or smoking cigarettes
You shouldn’t feel the need to set a timetable for getting over your loss but, if your grief is making it hard to function for more than a week or two, you may want to reach out for support. Talking to close friends and loved ones about your feelings and concerns or joining a grief support group may help you feel more connected with other people and less lonely.
Take the next step – Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans connect with proven resources, services, and support to address the issues impacting their lives. If the grief over loss of a friend or family member is interfering with your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, daily activities, or ability to do your job, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:
- A spiritual or religious advisor
- A bereavement support group
- Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
- A mental health professional with experience in grief counseling
- Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
Explore these resources to learn more about coping with the death of a family member or friend.
Learn more about the possible associations between grief and other concerns such as trouble sleeping, social withdrawal, alcohol and drug problems, posttraumatic stress, and depression.
Vet Centers provide a wide range of counseling services including bereavement counseling that can help you work through your grief after losing a friend or loved one. If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Having trouble coping with the death of a family member or friend over an extended period of time could be a sign of important problems that need attention. This link will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s mental health treatment programs.