When we lose someone – a partner, family member, friend, acquaintance or even a pet – grief can affect every part of our lives. Grief may arrive immediately after a loss, or in the months and years that follow. It affects everyone differently, and can vary greatly in duration and intensity.
Some people may experience feelings of sadness, shock, anxiety, disbelief, panic, relief, or numbness, depending on their situation. Grief can also affect a person’s way of thinking; it may feel like you’re never going to get over your loss, that life is no longer worth living, or that you’re losing your mind – these are all very common reactions to the loss of a loved one.
When people grieve, they are coming to terms with all that has changed in their lives. Experiencing a loss means having to reframe reality and your relationship to it. The one you have lost is no longer a part of your present life or future plans – save for their cherished memory – and that realisation can hit like a freight train, and take a long time to accept. For some people, this process can lead to difficulties with sleeping, eating, and daily functioning – though these symptoms usually pass with time. If they persist, it’s best to check in with your GP, and consider specialist grief counselling to help you come to terms with your loss.
Everyone grieves differently
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some people feel the need to express their grief openly, by crying or talking about their loss. Others may be more reluctant to talk about it, preferring to keep themselves busy and grieve in private instead. This doesn’t mean they’re not grieving; they’re just expressing their grief differently.
Even within the same family, people’s expression of grief can vary: it’s important to be respectful of each individual’s unique way of processing their loss. Some people may have extraordinary experiences – vivid dreams, for instance, where their loved ones are still alive, or continuing to sense their loved one’s presence in waking reality. These experiences occur frequently after a death, and may aid the grieving process by providing comfort and a sense of closeness to the person who has died.
Grief can feel like a roller coaster
With grief, there are constant ups and downs as you try to come to terms with your loss and return to some sense of normalcy. It’s a good idea to defer major decisions that cannot be reversed during the grieving period – for instance, avoid disposing of belongings for at least 6 to 12 months. It if it helpful, you may wish to draw on religious or spiritual beliefs or engage in self-care activities, such as meditation and exercise. Try to limit your consumption of stimulants, and implement a wellbeing routine.
When you feel ready, it’s vitally important to socialise and interact with people to reduce the sense of isolation that come with grief. Bereavement research suggests that 80 to 85% of people find the support of family and friends helpful in finding ways to live with loss.
Sometimes seeing a professional is helpful
If your grief feels distressing, overwhelming, long-lasting or complicated, a specialist bereavement counsellor can help support you through this difficult period. Grief can be an incredibly isolating experience, even when you’re surrounded by family, friends, and other people. Speaking to a professional trained in guiding people on the many and varied pathways that grief and loss take can reduce feelings of isolation, and enhance your ability to cope with everyday life whilst you’re in mourning.
Grief and loss resources:
Boss, P., & Ishii, C. (2015). Trauma and Ambiguous Loss: The Lingering Presence of the Physically Absent. In Traumatic Stress and Long-Term Recovery (pp. 271-289). Springer International Publishing.
Doka, K. J., & Davidson, J. D. (Eds.). (2014). Living with grief: Who we are how we grieve. Routledge.
Dyregrov, A., & Dyregrov, K. (2008). Effective grief and bereavement support: The role of family, friends, colleagues, schools and support professionals. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Eckerd, L. M., Barnett, J. E., & Jett-Dias, L. (2016). Grief following pet and human loss: Closeness is key. Death studies, 40(5), 275-282.
Klass, D., Silverman, P. R., & Nickman, S. (2014). Continuing bonds: New understandings of grief. Taylor & Francis.