Grief & Loss

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Grief is a normal and natural, though often deeply painful, response to loss. It is not just one feeling, but a whole succession of feelings such as numbness, anger, guilt, despair, irritability, relief, or anxiety. Each of us responds differently to loss and it can take time to heal.

Coping with grief when someone close to you has died is incredibly difficult. While it may be extremely hard to come to terms with your loss, there are strategies you can use to help you work through your feelings.

If you have a friend or family member who is grieving, it can be hard to know how to console him or her. No matter how they choose to deal with it, the grieving person needs the support of others. If you find yourself uncertain of what to do in the face of someone's loss, try some of the points in our Tips on Helping Someone who is Grieving page.

If you’d like further information, this section also includes a professional support and self help resources page to help you through the journey.

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What is grief?

Grief is a normal and natural, though often deeply painful, response to loss. Sooner or later most of us will experience grief at some point.

We grieve after any sort of loss, but most powerfully after the death of someone we love. It is not just one feeling, but a whole succession of feelings such as numbness, anger, guilt, despair, irritability, relief, or anxiety. These feelings can take a while to get through and cannot be hurried.

It takes time to heal after the loss of a loved one. The period of grieving depends upon the situation and varies greatly from person to person. Grieving is not a weakness; it is a necessity. Grieving helps us to come to terms with the enormous change in our lives and allows us to refocus our energies toward the future.

How do we grieve?

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. Some people are open and expressive with their grief, crying, and wanting to talk, whilst others are more private and may be reluctant to talk and prefer to keep busy. It is important to respect each other's way of grieving and to remember that, no matter what the reaction, the grieving person needs the support of others.

The stages of grieving

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced a frequently-cited model of bereavement known as the “five stages of grief”. According to Kübler-Ross, these stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While the five-stages approach has some staying power, Harvard Health holds that the concept that grief follows a standard pattern is no longer widely embraced by experts today.

Rather, if you are experiencing any of these emotions following a loss, it can help to know that your reaction is natural and that you’ll heal in time. Just remember, your emotions may collide and overlap and your ability to move ahead with your life will ebb and flow. Grieve at the pace and in the way that feels right to you.

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Coping with grief when someone close to us has died is incredibly difficult. It takes time to heal and each of us responds differently. While it may be extremely hard to come to terms with your loss, there are strategies you can use to help you work through your feelings.

  • Talk about the death of your loved one: Grieving can feel really lonely, and it’s a long process, so talk to family and friends. Sharing memories and stories, thoughts and feelings can be comforting and can strengthen our connection with our loved one. A lot of people also find it helpful to talk to people who have been through similar experiences. If you think you might, consider joining a support group.
  • Ask for help: Don’t always rely on others to make the first move; they may be concerned about allowing you your privacy. Let people know when you need companionship and support.
  • Accept your feelings: People experience all kinds of emotions after the death of someone close. Let yourself feel sadness, anger and any other feelings.
  • Take care of your physical health: The mind and body are connected. When you feel good physically, you’ll also feel better emotionally. Eating well, exercising and getting plenty of rest help us get through each day and move forward. Don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.
  • Grief time: Allow yourself 15 or 20 minutes each day to grieve. Switch off your phone and make sure you are in a space where you can be alone. This time is a safety valve – it’s an opportunity to allow yourself to deal with any feelings you have stored up. How you use it is up to you. Think, cry, pray, meditate, write, or draw.
  • Support others in their grief: Offer support to other family members and friends who are grieving, including children. Be honest with children about what has happened and about how you feel. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. Helping others has the added benefit of making you feel better as well.
  • Postpone major life changes: According to the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement , try to defer major decisions for 6-12 months. This can include decisions to remarry, have another child, relocate or dispose of belongings.
  • Create a memorial: Do something to honour your loved one. Possibilities include donating to a favorite charity of the deceased, passing on a family name to a baby, or planting a garden in their memory. What you choose is up to you, as long as it allows you to honour the person in a way that feels right to you.

It’s normal to feel completely overwhelmed when someone dies, but it does get better. According to the American Psychological Association , research shows that the death of a loved one can also be the catalyst for a renewed sense of meaning that offers purpose and direction to life.

 If you’ve given some of the above strategies a go, as well as given yourself some time, but are still finding it incredibly difficult to deal with what is going on, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor. Professional help can give you the extra support you need to manage your grief.

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If you have a friend or family member who is grieving, it can be difficult to know how to console him or her. Accept that the person's grieving will be a gradual process and that you can’t take their pain away. Instead, be present and offer hope and a positive outlook towards the future.

If you find yourself uncertain of what to do in the face of someone's loss, here are some tips that you can try:

  • Make contact: Make a phone call or send a card. Don’t let discomfort, fear, or uncertainty stand in the way of making contact and being a friend.
  • Provide practical help: Be specific when offering help. Decide on a practical task you can help with and make the offer. This might include providing meals, helping with funeral details and assisting with the many confusing tasks that follow death.
  • Be available and accepting: Accept your loved one’s need to vent emotions, and avoid being judgmental or taking their feelings personally. Refrain from telling them how they should feel or what they should do.
  • Be a good listener: Many people need to talk about their loss – whether it’s about the deceased, related events, or their reactions. Allow grievers to express their feelings and tell their stories, even when the same story is told over and over with little variation. Unless you are asked for your advice, don't be quick to offer it. Frequently, those who are grieving really wish others would just listen.
  • Exercise patience: Allow those who are bereaved to grieve for as long or short a time as needed.
  • Keep your promises: If you offer to do anything, make sure you follow through. This is especially important where promises to children are involved. For them, losing a loved one is abandonment enough.
  • Encourage self-care: Encourage bereaved people to attend to their physical and emotional needs. This might include needing your support to get back into social activities. In that case, help them to regain touch with the world around them.
  • Model good self-care: Helping a loved one through the grieving process can be tough. It’s also important for you to remember to maintain your own life and responsibilities, and to seek help when you feel overwhelmed or don’t know how to handle a situation.

Few people can cope alone with the loss of a loved one. It is natural for them to need to talk about their loss and share their pain. However, if reactions are extreme, encourage professional help and provide the support necessary to assist the bereaved to take this step toward help.

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