Understanding Grief

Posted: April 29th, 2014 | Category: Grief

What is grief? 

The death of someone close to us is a great loss and “grief” describes all the emotions we feel after this significant loss. The grief experience is a natural response, which may take many forms. In many cases the emotions we feel may be unfamiliar or overwhelming. We may feel isolated and think that no one could possibly understand what we are experiencing. It can at times seem as though we are on an emotional roller coaster. This is all normal part of grief.



What are the experiences of grief?

The experiences of grief are many and varied. They may include shock, numbness, sadness, despair, loneliness and confusion. Symptoms of depression or anxiety (e.g. poor sleep, lowered appetite, low mood, hopelessness, fear) may also be present. You may also feel anger, guilt, regret or relief.


Physically you may also feel different. At times you may be tired with no energy or feel sick in the stomach and have headaches. People experiencing grief after the death of someone close may also be more vulnerable to physical health problems. Sometimes many things or situations might remind you of the person. At other times you may have difficulty recalling the person’s face or voice. All of these feelings are normal and may come and go in “waves”.



How long will it take until I feel better?

The time is different for everyone. The experience of grief can occur for several months or even years after the death of someone we love.


Around 6 to 8 weeks after the death, you may feel you are getting worse. This could be when the initial numbness starts to wear off or when there’s a lack of support from others. This could also be a time when others are saying that it is time to “let go” or “move on”. All these reasons could lead you to feel a sense of confusion and intense emotional distress. Sometimes the pain can even feel unbearable at this point. Our understanding of grief suggests that grief is an experience that is neither always fully present nor finally absent as you go through a continuous process of adaptation and change. The loss may continue to carry some form of sadness but the emotional intensity may lessen across time. It can be healthy to continue remembering the person.


The first anniversary of the death can also be a challenging time for many. Special occasions, such as birthdays and celebratory seasons can also be particularly difficult, especially in the first year. It is natural that grief is more intense at these times and it can feel as though the various old feelings of grief are coming back.



What helps?

Grief is a very individual process and we each react differently to loss. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. The process may be gradual. We take time to establish a relationship with someone we care about, so our adjustment to the death also takes time. The goal is not about coming to a point where we “let go” or “move on”; instead it is more useful to see grief as an ongoing process of adjusting to the life changes while still continuing to make space to remember the person in your life.


In coping with grief, you are likely to engage in two types of experiences. Firstly, there are the experiences of the emotional loss (e.g. feelings of sadness, a deep sense of yearning, anxiety about the future, remembering memories from the past). Secondly, there are the experiences of struggling to adapt to the changes or re-orientate your life to accommodate the changes (e.g. attending to responsibilities associated with the death, going back to work, attending to practical day-to-day matters).


A helpful way of approaching grief is to continuously move between these two types of experiences. That is, having the time and space to experience the feelings of loss while also making time to manage the practical adjustments to the changes resulting from the death. The continuous moving between these two processes is like the swing of the pendulum that goes from one side to the other, which is normal and adaptive. As time goes by, the total amount of time spent on both these experiences will lessen.


Most people going through grief will eventually be able to adjust to the loss and be able to continue remembering the person without being overwhelmed by the sense of loss. So, allow yourself to grieve in whatever way is comfortable for you. Take time to reflect on the memories of the person or engage in certain rituals that are meaningful for you. It’s useful to allow space to remember, pray, meditate, cry and mourn. Also take time to care for yourself, allow some time away from the painful feelings and attend to the day-to-day responsibilities that you have. It’s important to maintain a healthy diet and some physical activity during this time. The key to adaptive coping is maintaining a balance between all these different activities.



Is counselling or psychological therapy useful?

You may be able to talk about how you feel or share stories and memories with friends or family members. Sometimes it’s easier not to talk but just to have company. Family and friends can provide valuable support, however, for some who are grieving it can also be helpful to talk to someone outside of your usual network of support, such as a counselor or a psychologist. These trained professionals can support you to safely explore grief and connect with feelings and memories. They can also help you work through the range of different challenges that may arise in the process of grieving.


If you’d like to make an enquiry about seeing one of our Psychologists, please call us on 02 8068 4361 or fill in the contact form.

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