What to expect
The feelings and physical symptoms listed below may come and go and do not follow any particular order.
The Grief Process
Many people experience a sense of shock and disbelief when a death occurs. They may appear to be coping well but often feel detached and almost in a dream.
This initial reaction is a protective device that allows them to shut down in some ways as they prepare for what lies ahead. They may be surprised that the pain increases when the numbness begins to wear off and the reality of the loss begins to sink in. As the reality comes into focus so too does the pain of the loss. They begin to notice all that they have lost.
Grief does not happen in a set way. It is not like having the flu, when a person can feel very ill and then begin to feel a bit better until finally they return to being their old self again.
The feelings and thoughts of grief come and go in waves.
Sometimes they may feel they are coping quite well and then experience a burst of grief as they are reminded of the loss.
It can be confusing to suddenly feel angry, for example, if they feel they have already ‘gotten over’ the anger.
It may help to remember that their thoughts and feelings will come and go as they try to come to terms with grief while also living day-to-day life.
How long does grieving take?
There is no set time for grief. Grieving can be a lifetime adjustment, with some feelings coming back many times. They also may find that they feel a ‘dip’ around important dates such as anniversaries and birthdays. They will find that their grief will become less intense and ease over time. That does not mean that they are over their grief but that they begin to find a way to re- engage in life without the person that died.
While most people find their own way to cope with the support of family and friends, some people find they need professional support as they adjust. Bereavement counselling may help if:
What may help?
They may find they spend a lot of time thinking about the loss and the events leading up to it. It is normal to spend time thinking about ‘if onlys’ and how things might have been different. Many people find they think a lot about why it happened. Although they know the person has died, they may ‘forget’ it briefly, particularly in the morning when they wake up. They may imagine they see or have contact with the person who died. These thoughts can be overwhelming or frightening at times. The emotions and physical symptoms of grief can lead them to wonder if they are grieving the ‘right’ way or even if they are going mad.
They may find they need time alone or may feel a need to tell the story of the loss many times over. They may seek out people who can understand their need to talk and distance themselves from people who are uncomfortable with this. They may be disappointed and surprised at who can support them and who cannot.
They may struggle with questions about:
Although it may be difficult to imagine in the early days of grief, as time goes on they will find resources and strength within themselves that they did not know existed. Even as we struggle with grief, we can learn and grow with it.