The First Year After Loss

Losing A Loved One Or Pet: What To Expect That First Year

Dealing with a major loss is one of the most common, yet jarring experiences a person can go through. It is often life changing, unexpected, and can leave people grieving for months, or even years afterward.

In the first year after loss, there are a lot of overwhelming emotions, processes, and steps that you will need to take. In this guide, we outline what you can expect, how to deal with it, and what you can do to help move yourself forward through your grief journey.

The First Couple Of Months After Loss

The first few months are going to be a whirlwind of difficult emotions. It is common to experience a form of shock, numbness, and disorientation which can be quickly followed up by intense periods of sadness.

You may call out for your loved one or pet only to remember that they are no longer there with you. You may feel pressured to dispose of your loved one’s or pet’s belongings such as clothing, toys, and personal items like hygiene products and cosmetics.

When dealing with the formalities of funeral arrangements and notifying organizations of your loved one’s death, these tasks may feel impossible to complete due to the pain.  For some, these difficult tasks can help center you and give you something to focus on to help with feeling lost.

Others in the household are going to be impacted as well. This could include your spouse, grandparents, children in the home, as well as, any remaining pets. Expect there to be expressions of grief such as: asking questions about the deceased (child), pets looking for their companion, and grandparents may become very isolated and quiet. 


After the initial shock of loss has passed, most individuals will progress through various stages of grief. Everyone experiences grief differently, and some may not experience these stages in the same order as others or may not experience some stages at all. However, keeping an eye out on what you’re feeling and experiencing can help you identify and cope with these feelings, kickstarting the healing process.


Though not a stage of grief, many individuals will experience an overall numbness of both body and thoughts. They may appear unattentive or dissociative, and may refrain from interaction of any kind.


A common defense mechanism is the brain thinking there’s been some kind of mistake, and that what has happened will either resolve itself soon, or never really happened in the first place. The loss of a pet may provoke thoughts of the pet running away, and that it’ll return home within a day or two.


Outbursts and irritability may arise as your emotions become too much to handle. Anger is a tool for your mind to mask other emotions until they become more manageable, and will eventually give way to the underlying sadness and pain.


This stage tends to manifest as wishes that some action had been taken to prevent the loss, such as visiting a doctor sooner. Thoughts like this are the result of a loss of control, and are an attempt to regain it. Bargaining is a way for you to postpone more intense emotions until you’re ready to feel them.


Numbness and depression can look very similar at times, but are vastly different from each other. Where numbness suppresses emotions, depression allows you to feel them in their entirety.

It can be overwhelming and often comes with general confusion and heaviness, but is one of the most important stages, as it is during this time that you will be able to process your emotions most effectively.


Accepting what has happened doesn’t always mean you’ve moved past it and should be feeling better now. Rather, it means you are ready to continue your life with the changes that have been made to it. Your routine, outlook and feelings will likely be very different from this point, and that’s entirely expected.

Grief is very personal and others may return to their normal routines earlier than you. It’s important to remember that everyone deals with grief in their own way, and at their own pace. Focus on your own healing and keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with needing more time. Know more about Grief and Grieving: Healing Through The Grieving Process


There are certain legal matters that will need to be addressed in the days, weeks and first couple of months following the loss of a loved one. Be aware of what those matters are and don't be afraid to allow other family members or close friends to assist.

There are certain legal matters that will need to be addressed in the days, weeks and first couple of months following the loss of a loved one. Be aware of what those matters are and don't be afraid to allow other family members or close friends to assist.

Reading Of The Will

This is a legal document that instructs you on the last wishes of the deceased. It will nominate one or more people as an executor, which gives them the responsibility of distributing and acting on the wishes in the will.

This includes distributing assets and belongings named as the beneficiaries. It is always advisable to consult with legal advice when dealing with a will. 


If the assets of the deceased individual were solely in their own name, are of significant value, and no beneficiaries are named in the will then a probate is applied. These assets will be used to pay off any debt that is owed.

If the individual had joint accounts with another, no probate is required to transfer assets from the deceased to the surviving joint holder once the estate has paid off any remaining debt.

Paying Bills & Closing Accounts

It is important to ensure that any accounts and recurring bills are settled, closed and transferred out of the deceased’s name. Not only will this prevent bills from getting out of control, but can protect against fraud and identity theft as well. Be sure to consider things like:

  • Credit Cards
  • Cell Phone Contracts
  • Automatic Prescriptions
  • Postal Services
  • Utility Bills
  • Memberships to Gyms, Sports Clubs and Other Organizations
  • Newspaper and Magazine Subscriptions
  • Online Accounts Such as Social Media, Email, Businesses and Entertainment

Dealing With Your Emotions That First Year After Loss

In the first year after loss, you will likely encounter numerous emotions all with their own expression, intensity, and challenges.  For instance, you may experience any of the following:


While it is common to feel shock during the initial stages of grief, you may also feel it in the year to come if the situation that led to the loss of your loved one was sudden or unexpected. It may be paired with thoughts of disbelief like, “I can’t believe they are gone,” or “I can’t believe how much time has passed”. 


You may feel a sense of longing to be with them again or to have them around. You may search for the ways that the individual or pet chose to do things, like keeping doors open or cooking food in a certain way. You may yearn for their touch, their voice, or even their personality.


When your interpersonal needs or desires are not met by your social relationships, you may feel a sense of loneliness. For those grieving, loneliness is inevitable and may feel unsolvable at times, because the one that you desire is gone and the emptiness that they have left behind cannot be filled by someone else in the same likeness.

To solve the loneliness caused by grief, it takes considerable time and effort to connect to alternative spaces that fulfill your needs. It is important to note that you can hold onto your loved one for as long as you need, while still accepting the support and company of others as you need it. 


As you move through the first year after loss, there will be intense periods of sadness that accompany the painful memories of your loved one or pet. Your sadness will vary in intensity and in duration, but it will fade after some time.


You will come across many types of grief triggers which will bring up memories of the loss. While there are some obvious types of triggers like holidays, birthdays, the death anniversary, and family occasions, there will also be some that will take you by surprise. These types of triggers will be things like the changing of the seasons, favorite places, special songs, certain foods, or seeing someone who looks like your loved one or had the same name as them.

These grief triggers are likely to be upsetting as they will rekindle emotions of sadness, loneliness, and yearning. They may come up at the most inopportune times when you have company or may surprise you in their intensity. If you experience any grief triggers during the year after loss, take the time to feel them and share them.

Talking about your feelings can have a very positive impact when dealing with a loss. Others can offer other perspectives, sound advice, or even just an ear to listen. How writing letters to a deceased loved one helps deal with grief

You may consider speaking to friends and family, a therapist or a bereavement counselor. If talking about your feelings with another is too difficult at this time, consider using tools like art therapy, music therapy, or journaling to express your emotions. 

How To Help Readjust To Life

One of the most difficult things about the passing of a loved one or pet is learning how to continue living without them. The absence that that their loss brings can feel deafening, making it hard to readjust your life to the reality you are experiencing.

While this process is never an easy one, there are a few things you can do to remember your loved one or pet, but still keep your life in a balance that helps you move forward. 


It can be really difficult to readjust to life if you are unable to express your emotions. To help you communicate your thoughts and feelings, it is recommended that you talk about the person or pet you’ve lost in an open and positive manner.

This could involve re-telling their favorite stories to a friend over coffee, mentioning your dog’s favorite park when you walk by it, or acknowledging the little moments throughout the day that remind you of them.

By speaking about your loved one or pet outloud, you help yourself process the emotions you are feeling. As you process, it will help you readjust to life without them, while still keeping their memory intact in a positive way.


When we lose those who are important to us, whether it is a family member, friend, or pet, photographs can help us feel reconnected to them through the memories they prompt. They can help us remember their personality, their hobbies, how they lived their lives and how they impacted our own.

It reminds us of who they are and what made them unique. Beyond this, the photos of our loved one or pets can bring back their lives to us, so that our memories of them are not just filled with their passing.

If you have a favorite photograph of your loved one or pet, a photo engraved pendant or pet photo engraved jewelry can be a great way to capture the story that the picture tells. 


By writing down your thoughts, emotions, and memories in a journal, you give yourself a safe and judgement-free place to explore your journey through grief. While it may be difficult at first, journaling can provide a whole host of benefits during your time of loss. 

  • Helps Process Grief. Journaling can help rationalize a loss in your mind by encouraging self reflection and internal dialogue. It’s a way of putting our thoughts somewhere to come back to later when we can handle doing so again.
  • Brings Insight. Revisiting old entries can help bring insight and perspective on how your life has changed since your loved one’s passing. It may show you what areas you may still want to work on or remind you of just how far you’ve come.
  • Manages Stress. Stressful memories can be revisited, and your response to them reworked, until they can be handled without overwhelming yourself. Journaling helps by removing the stress and fear you associate with those memories, subsequently allowing you to learn from them.
  • Provides Growth and Healing. Eventually, journaling can turn into simply telling a story that slowly folds into the rest of your life. Rather than disassociating from it, it allows you to use that story to heal from your experience.


It can be hard to envision a future when you are lost in the loss of someone dear to you. The devastation can be paralyzing and the fear, sadness, and anger, overwhelming. This is why it is important to take it one day at time by focusing on just the small daily tasks of the day.

This could be anything from making yourself coffee in the morning, taking the dog for a walk, or simply taking a shower.

By focusing on only the small daily tasks, you avoid getting stranded in your grief and you give yourself something to focus on; a purpose.  Just remember to not force yourself to do more than what you can handle. 


With the loss of a loved one, we often find ourselves preoccupied with our thoughts, memories, and the intense feelings that grief brings with it. This can cause us to feel scattered and overwhelmed by even the smallest of responsibilities. However, engaging in self-care can help you manage the stress that comes with grief.

It is important to not feel guilty for enjoying small pleasures, laughter, or happy memories during your grieving periods. Simple self-treats and small bouts of happiness can help you feel good and give you a boost through a tough day.

Be gentle with yourself and don’t practice demanding self-talk that puts pressure on you to do things. Avoid using “should” and “have” statements and instead focus on what you need to recharge your system.  Get plenty of rest as the appropriate amount of sleep will help you think clearly

Consume small, healthy and easy meals.  When grieving, it is important to keep a healthy diet as this will combat stress levels, give you energy to process your thoughts, and help fight off infections. 

Add physical exercise to your daily routine. Even something as little as a short walk or a few laps around the local swimming pool can improve mood and boost energy levels. When we exercise, our brains release chemicals that help combat stress, helping you to relax in the process. Even just getting 30-minutes of fresh air can reduce fatigue and ease tension. 


If your loved one or pet had a special place, visit it. This can help you feel connected to them, help you relive happy memories, and keeps you from isolating yourself. If there is a particular place that your loved one or pet truly loved being, you can recreate its scenic theme with a photo of them through a memorial picture frame. This is a stunning way to remember your loved one or pet while capturing their essence, passion, or occupation. 

Take some time to visit the local park (or dog park) and sit on one of the benches. You can choose to sit quietly and watch the activity in the park, or reminisce about the many memories you formed here.

If your loved one enjoyed more active places, visiting one may remind you of the joy they felt there. If your loved one was a child, hearing children laughing and playing in the water can bring the feeling of connecting with them again.

Maybe your loved one or pet had a favorite trail they enjoyed walking or hiking on. Going here and breathing in the fresh air, walking past hiking markers you’ve seen a dozen times, and reaching the top of the trail can feel like you are with them again. 


By volunteering at an organization that was important to your loved one, not only are you able to honor their life, but it can help you improve your mental well-being and overall happiness by giving back.

If you have lost a pet, consider volunteering at the shelter that they came from or donating pet food to a shelter that is in need. By volunteering in this way, you may find an enriched sense of purpose, lower stress levels, or improved self-esteem. 

Dealing With Special Occasions & Celebrations

As you move through the loss, celebrations like birthdays, religious events, and holidays like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas are expected to be joyous occasions that are spent with family or loved ones. For you, these dates may bring up heightened anxiety, sadness, and anger around the inability to spend it with your loved one or pet.

It is critical to decide beforehand on how you want to engage these dates, as it may be too painful to go through the reminders of your loss or the continued traditions may feel comforting.  Around large events where there are a lot of family or friends present, you may want to do the following:


Celebrations can bring a lot of emotions with them, especially if you are commemorating a wedding or other significant milestone. These days may be extremely hard to bear, so surrounding yourself with close family and friends may be the way to go to feel less alone and to form new memories.


Consider decorating the home in a different manner. Take it as a way to start new traditions that provide happy memories rather than painful reminders. You may also want to start up a memory share amongst family members, light candles on the holiday eve, or have a quiet moment of reflection for them as you move into the cheer of the holiday.


You may want to consider having a specialized piece of memorial jewelry made out with a promise to your loved one or the vows you made as a way to celebrate your last anniversary with them. If you have access to your loved one’s fingerprint or pawprint, you could have a fingerprint ring made out with an engraving. If you have access to their handwriting, you could do something similar and have their handwriting engraved into a pendant, signature necklace, or bracelet.


If you have lost a pet, consider asking your friends or family to bring their own with them. This can give you an opportunity to connect with another animal which may make the occasion feel better to you.  If you still have your pet’s food bowls or toys laying around, you may want to assess whether these are comforting to you or not during the holiday season. If they are not comforting, place them away for the time being.

The Anniversary Of Their Death: Ways To Cope

With the one year death anniversary, you may find yourself reliving the painful moments of that day and remembering what led up to it.  This can leave you feeling extremely vulnerable and distressed.  While there is no right or wrong way to experience this day, there are some steps that you can take to make its passing a little easier. Ideas include:

  • Engage in an activity that you both liked to do together. 
  • Cook all of their favorite foods and pour a glass of their favorite drink.
  • Have a small memorial gathering with close loved ones and friends.
  • Read a chapter from one of their favorite books. 
  • Spend the day helping others if your loved one enjoyed being charitable. If you’ve lost a pet, consider volunteering at the shelter for the day or making a small donation.
  • Participate in an activity that calls on your adventurous side like geo-caching, hiking, rafting, rock-climbing, or maybe attend a lecture on an interest that your loved one had. 
  • Have a small vigil for them and light a candle if you want to be reflective.
  • Call up a close friend or family member to share stories of your loved one. 

Commemorating your loved one or pet on the anniversary of their death can be very comforting both as a reflective individual experience or one that is shared with fellow friends and family members.  It is important to acknowledge the anniversary in the way that feels right to you. Here are some things to keep in mind.


Put some thought into how you want to deal with holiday or celebration cards. Choosing which names to include may be a struggle. You may choose to opt out of sending cards altogether if it is too painful.

Consider where you want to spend the day. It is a lot easier for you to leave a venue if and when you become tired or need alone time. You may want to visit someone else’s home rather than have others over at yours. 


In the days leading up to these special occasions, make sure to let your friends and family know how they might be helpful to you. They may not know what to say or what you need in the moment, so encourage them in ways that will not inhibit your grieving process.

Many may shy away from saying anything at all to you because they are unaware of how to broach the subject or are afraid of making your grief worse. If you do get those who want to talk to you about it, have a few phrases on hand that will allow you to shift the conversation to another topic in a polite manner for when you become uncomfortable.


There are a number of organizations and options for those needing assistance from outside resources. Sometimes going to someone that can view your loss as an outsider looking can provide clarity and comfort that others close to you cannot.

Support & Resources

  • Doctors: can provide help via medical connections. This could be as simple as prescribing a sleep aid to referring you to a therapist. 
  • Counselors: these individuals can help you process the feelings you are experiencing, help you find healthy coping mechanisms and ways to move forward.
  • Online Grief Groups: these groups can connect you to like-minded individuals who are also in mourning, giving you a sense of communal support. 
  • Grief Groups Through a Church: these groups also provide a communal support structure with the addition of spiritual support and comfort. 
  • Family/friends: being around family and friends can help you feel an intimate type of support as these individuals know you on a more personal level. They will be able to help with things like: cooking, cleaning, sharing stories, or planning activity days with/for you. 

The First Year After Loss: Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Grief?

The clinical definition of grief is that it is a natural reaction to loss or rather the acute pain that we feel when we experience a loss that is all-encompassing.  It is not limited to just the loss of a person, but can also follow the loss of other things such as pets, jobs, or the loss of independence/identity.

When individuals are grieving, it is important to recognize that the process cannot be controlled and that you may go through several stages of grief, including but not limited to: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, not everyone will process all of these stages or go through any of them for that matter, as how one reaches acceptance is individualized. 

How Long Does Grief Last?

There is no set time for when your grief will end as it does not follow a set timetable. In the first year after loss, there are going to be good and bad days, where you may become overwhelmed with grief as certain days pop up like birthdays or anniversaries.

As time goes on, these days will shift and balance out so that there are more good days then bad, but the shift will be gradual and you will still experience periods of grief.  For some, intense grief may last for a few months or few years, but for others, grief may come and go for decades. 

You will know that your days are getting better when the physical symptoms of grief, such as trouble sleeping, trouble eating, or taking care of yourself become easier or like second nature again.

Do Children Experience Grief?

Yes, children do grieve but they do it in such a way that is drastically different than adults. Children often grieve in spurts as they seem to be unable to grieve for long periods of time.

This tends to cause the child to appear as if they are coping well one minute, to having a disproportionate response the next from some seemingly innocuous event that is unrelated to the loss.  This is because children, while they may be aware of what death is, may not quite understand it at a young age and will thus distract themselves and focus on other things like their routines and toys, pushing back their emotions.

Grief in children may be expressed as guilt, anxiety, depression, anger, fear, and sometimes even relief if the deceased person had been ill for a long period of time or they had a rocky relationship with the individual. Young children may regress to behaviors they had previously grown out of, such as speech patterns and bed wetting. 

With regards to pets, children will often feel sadness, loneliness, anger, or even frustration that the pet had to be euthanized or that they could not get better. They may also feel guilty if they didn’t care for the pet as promised or were mean to the pet at times.

How Do I Move On Without My Loved One Or My Pet?

Once enough time has passed and you feel ready to move forward, begin by engaging in activities that support you. This could be going to social events, talking with others in mourning, seeking professional help, or even resolving any guilt you may feel. 

Are Bereavement Groups Helpful?

Experts advise that talking to others can help, as it brings a sense of support and offers differing perspectives from others in similar situations. This kind of support can help individuals resolve emotional pains surrounding their loss, help them feel not alone in their grief, and lead them to a brighter outcome. 

Should I Get Another Pet Right Away?

When you feel you are ready to care for another pet, you may certainly get a new one. However, getting a new pet immediately after one has passed may have a negative impact if the grief for the previous pet has not already been processed. Click here to know when the time is right to get another pet.

Was Euthanizing The Right Choice?

This question is best answered by asking “would my pet have suffered more if I hadn’t?” In most cases, euthanasia is the best course of action to prevent further suffering from illnesses or debilitating conditions. In these cases, choosing to not euthanize your pet may cause more hardship on them than letting them go.

What Do I Do With My Pet's Belongings?

This is entirely up to you and what you want, whether it’s to be rid of them or to see them used again. Some options include:

  • Keeping the items around to use on another pet. This option is good if you are considering getting another pet in the near future. 
  • Donating the items to a local animal shelter, friend, or family member that has pets.  If you know a family member or friend that has a pet and could use some of the items, giving these to them can give you some closure by knowing that these items are still being used. If you choose to donate them to a shelter, they will definitely get used up as shelters tend to have tons of animals that come and go through their doors. 
  • You could recycle or throw away heavily used items and keep only the ones that have the most sentimental value such as your pet’s collar or leash. 
  • If the grief is still weighing down on you and you find that it is too hard to part with the items at this time, you may want to leave them be for the time being in their respective spots. 

Any and all of these options can help bring peace of mind and the results of each will be different for every individual. Start by keeping everything, then slowly decide if you’re comfortable to try moving on to another step.

Taking It One Day At A Time The First Year After Loss

Grief can affect anyone, is never easy to deal with and will often affect people for years after experiencing a loss. Luckily, there are numerous tools and support systems available to help ease the grieving process, and help you rebuild your life. 

Further Reading:

How to prepare for the loss of a pet

15 ideas of what to do with my pet's ashes

Complete guide on pet care after death of the owner

January 31, 2021 by Frances Kay