Grief is the reaction we have in response to a death or loss. This can include the ending of or breakdown of a relationship, or the loss of something that has been meaningful or important in our lives.
Grief can affect our body, mind, emotions, and spirit, but grief is also the name we give to the process of coping with loss.
Getting over grief doesn’t mean forgetting about who or what we have lost. Healthy grief is about finding ways to remember our loved one or that which we have lost, and adjusting to life without them.
The experience of grieving
People often experience grief reactions in “waves” that come and go. Often, grief is most intense soon after the loss or passing of a loved one. But some people don’t feel their grief right away - they may feel numbness, shock, or disbelief. It can take time for the reality to sink in.
People might notice or show grief in several ways such as:
Physical reactions: These might be things like changes in appetite or sleep, an upset stomach, tight chest, crying, tense muscles, trouble relaxing, low energy, restlessness, or trouble concentrating.
Frequent thoughts: These may be happy memories, worries or regrets, or thoughts of what life will be like without the person or without that which they have lost.
Strong emotions: For example, sadness, anger, guilt, despair, relief, love, or hope.
Spiritual reactions: This might mean finding strength in faith, questioning religious beliefs, or discovering spiritual meaning and connections.
When people have these reactions and emotions, we say they’re grieving.
Feeling better & helping yourself
If you have experienced loss, it’s natural to keep having feelings and questions for a while – even after rituals like a funeral. It’s also natural to begin to feel a bit better. A lot depends on how a loss affects your life.
It’s OK to feel grief for days, weeks, or longer. How intensely you feel grief can be related to things like whether the loss was sudden or expected, or how close you felt to the person who died or that which has been lost.
Every person and situation is different.
Feeling better usually happens gradually. At times, it might feel like you’ll never recover. The grieving process takes time, and grief can be more intense at some times than others.
As you do things you enjoy and spend time with people you feel good around, you can help yourself feel better. Grief has its own pace. Every situation is different. How much grief you feel or how long it lasts isn’t a measure of how important the person or situation was to you.
If you’re grieving, it can help to express your feelings and get support, take care of yourself, and find meaning in the experience.
Express your feelings and find support
Take a moment to notice how you’ve been feeling and reacting. Try to put it into words. Write about what you’re feeling and the ways you’re reacting to grief. Notice how it feels to think about and write about your experience.
Think of someone you can share your feelings with, someone who will listen and understand. Find time to talk to that person about what you’re going through and how the loss is affecting you. Notice how you feel after sharing and talking.
We can learn a lot from the people in our lives. Even when you don’t feel like talking, it can help just to be with others – particularly others who have experienced the loss with you. When family and friends get together, it helps people feel less isolated in the first days and weeks of their grief. Being with others helps you, and your presence and words can support them, too.
We can learn from loss and difficult experiences. Think about what you’ve discovered about yourself, about others, or about life as a result of going through this loss. To help get started, you can try writing down answers to these questions:
- What did the person/relationship/etc mean to you?
- What did you learn from them/it?
- What good has come from this difficult experience?
- What have you learned about yourself, other people, or life?
- Are there things you appreciate more?
- Who are the people who have been there for you? Were they the people you expected? What have you learned about them?
- In what ways have you grown or matured based on this experience?
Take care of yourself
The loss of someone or something meaningful to us can be stressful. Take care of yourself in small but important ways:
Sleep is healing for both body and mind, but grief can disrupt sleep patterns. Focus on building healthy sleep habits, like going to bed at the same time each night or establishing bedtime routines like doing gentle yoga or breathing exercises.
Exercise can help your mood. It may be hard to get motivated when you’re grieving, so modify your usual routine if you need to. Even a gentle walk outdoors can help to reset your perspective on things.
You may feel like skipping meals or you may not feel hungry. Your body still needs nutritious foods, though. Avoid overeating, loading up on junk foods, or using alcohol to “soothe” your grief.
Grief is a normal emotion. It can help to know that you will always remember the person or relationship you have lost, but you can feel better with time.
Angela Gorman-Alesi | Senior Manager School Counselling Unit, Child & Family Counsellor
If you need help coping with grief or supporting someone who is experiencing grief, speak to a counsellor today. Discover counselling at CatholicCare.
If your school community has experienced a significant loss and requires support, please contact our Schools Unit for crisis support.