Overview

When someone close to you dies you may feel shock, disbelief, numbness, sadness, anger or loneliness. It may seem like everything has been turned upside down. Everyone reacts differently and it is normal to experience many emotions. During this time it is important to take care of yourself.

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Managing Grief

There is no 'right' way to grieve, everyone is different, and will have different feelings and reactions to the loss. 

  • Author: headspace
  • Upload Date: 20/10/2011

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Factsheet

Provided by Reach Out

We have partnered with Reach Out to bring you the best factsheet information we can on this topic. Reach Out offers information, support and resources to help young people improve their understanding of mental health issues, develop resilience, and increase their coping skills and help-seeking behaviour.

Managing Grief and Loss

After someone has died - initial reactions

managing grief and loss

Image Credit: Eileen | Flickr

When someone close to you dies you may feel shock, disbelief, numbness, sadness, anger or loneliness. It may seem like everything has been turned upside down. Everyone reacts differently and it is normal to experience many emotions. It is all part of a grieving process. During this time it is important to take care of yourself.

Shock/disbelief

It is normal to feel a sense of shock when someone close to you has died. Experiencing shock can mean you have a physical and emotional reaction. You may feel dizzy, nauseous, dazed, numb or empty. As part of feeling shocked you may not believe that the news is real.

Shock may also mean that you feel nothing when you hear of the loss. This is normal and over time you are likely to start to feel different emotions. Shock is different for everyone and may last for a couple of days or weeks. Shock may cause some people to react in an unusual way when they first hear the news of a death. It may be that some people laugh hysterically. This is often a result of the shock and not necessarily because they find the situation funny.

It is a good idea to take it easy. If you feel like things are building up on top of you may want to see your local doctor. To find a doctor or mental health professional see the beyondblue Directory of Medical and Allied Health Practitioners in Mental Health.

Numbness/feeling nothing

As a way of coping with the news of a loss your feelings may become numb. This may mean you feel like you are dreaming, or the event seems unreal. Sometimes this can make it hard to cry or feel any sort of sadness. Over time you are likely to start feeling emotions.

Grief

As the shock and numbness lessens you are likely to start grieving. Everybody grieves differently and there are different things that may affect the way people grieve. Knowing these may help to understand yours and other people's reactions to the loss. If someone's reaction is different to yours it does not necessarily mean they care any less.

Some reasons why people grieve differently may be:

  • The type of relationship they had with the person.
  • Other losses they have had may come back and be grieved again with the new loss.
  • Gender - Males and females may have different ways of managing their grief. Males are more likely to feel restrained and may need to show they are in control of their feelings. They are also more likely to be physically active in their grief. It is not uncommon for men to sort out practical problems or to be focusing on getting stuff done. Females are more likely to want to share their feelings with others. This may mean they talk about what is happening or cry more openingly than males.
  • Cultural background - Cultural groups express grief in different ways. The rituals and ceremonies, expressing emotions and the rules around what is considered respectful may vary depending on your cultural background. Crying and showing lots of emotion in public does not necessarily mean that someone is not coping with their grief, instead it may be their way of managing their grief.
  • Age - Children of different ages understand death differently. Younger children may not understand that the person is not coming back. Older children, on the other hand, understand that the person is not coming back, but may not understand why.

Other effects you may experience after losing someone

  • Physical - Headaches, feeling tired, achy muscles and nausea.
  • Emotional - Sadness, anger, disbelief, despair, guilt, loneliness.
  • Mental - Forgetfulness, lack of concentration, confusion, and poor memory.
  • Behavioural - Changes to sleeping patterns, dreams or nightmares, changes in appetite, not wanting to go out or to be around too many people, experiencing emotional reactions that are out of the ordinary, and crying.
  • Social - Some friends may avoid you because they do not know what to say or how to help you.
  • Spiritual - Your beliefs may be challenged.

It is normal to grieve after you have lost someone. Everybody should be able to grieve in their own way and time. Sometimes you may feel pressure to be strong for family or friends. It is important to be supportive of others however you shouldn't feel like you have to bottle up what you feel. For more information about the stages of grief you may want to check out Reach Out's Working through your grief factsheet.

Unexpected feelings and reactions

It is not unusual for events in your everyday routine to trigger a strong emotional reaction, as they are often a reminder that your friend or loved one is no longer with you. This may happen through something as simple as setting the table for a family meal or being reminded of the person you lost by the words of a song. Over time these reactions may not be as regular or as painful.

Managing Grief

Things that may be helpful while grieving

Managing grief can be really hard. Below are some suggestions that may help you to get through this time.

Accepting your feelings

There is no right or wrong way to feel after losing someone you care about. Accepting the feelings you have and acknowledging you are going through a stressful experience may be helpful in managing your reactions. Many people wrongly think the intensity of their feelings means they are going mad.

Allow yourself to cry

managing grief and loss

Image Credit Annieinbeziers | Flickr

It is OK to cry. You don't have to be over your feelings in anyone else's time except your own. If you feel uncomfortable crying in front of people you may want to make a plan so you can leave and go to a safer place. This may be:

  • a quiet room
  • the park
  • school counsellor's office
  • your favourite spot.

If you are in a classroom, it may be a good idea to let your teacher know of your plan at the beginning of class, then if it happens the teacher will know what you are doing and that you are safe.

Take time out

Friends and relatives may have deep feelings of grief as well. The way they manage these feelings may be different to you, which can mean that people's reactions to things are exaggerated. Things that would not usually stress people out may do so. If you are having trouble coping with other friends or relatives it may be a good idea to take time out. You may like to:

  • go for a walk
  • listen to music
  • hang out with friends
  • kick a footie.

It's OK to smile

After you have lost someone it may be helpful to talk about the memories and good times you have had with that person. There are likely to be many happy memories and fun times. It is OK to enjoy those memories and have a laugh about the fun you have shared. This is not a sign that you miss the person any less.

Saying goodbye is important

Part of the grieving process is letting go of the person who has died. Saying goodbye to the person helps you to do this. You may want to do this by:

  • writing a letter
  • going to the funeral
  • having your own memorial service.

It is important to say goodbye in your own way and in your own time. There is no right or wrong way for doing this.

Avoid bottling stuff up

managing grief and lossKeeping things to yourself may mean that the tension builds up inside you. Finding a way to express how you are feeling may help you to feel better. You may like to talk to someone, write your thoughts down, draw or punch some pillows. Check out the Express yourself factsheet for more ideas about how to get stuff off your chest.

Have a massage

Having a massage may be a nice way to help you release some of that tension that can build within you.

Talk to someone

Talking to someone you trust about how you are feeling may be helpful. This may be a family member, friend or youth worker. It may help to share your experiences with others who have had similar experiences. You may want to contact National Association for Loss and Grief (NALAG) for more information about support groups. For their contact details, check out the More information section at the bottom of this fact sheet.

If you are finding it hard to cope with day-to-day stuff then it may help to talk to someone like a counsellor. Check out the Who can help you section for more information about what a counsellor does. To find a doctor or mental health professional see the beyondblue Directory of Medical and Allied Health Practitioners. Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800 - free call from landline to call anytime and speak to a counsellor). Check their site for more info about their web and email counselling services and whether you can use your mobile to call them for free. Try Lifeline (13 11 14 - cost of a local call from landline) also have counsellors that are available 24 hours a day.

More information

You may want to check out the fact sheets on the left hand side of the page for more information.

National Association for Loss and Grief (Aust) Inc (NALAG)have offices in 3 Australian States:

  • New South Wales (02) 6882 9222
  • Victoria (03) 9329 4003
  • Free call for rural areas 1800 100 023

Counsellors within your local area should also be able to provide information. Your local community health centre should have information about the counselling services in your area. Look up 'Community Health Services' in the White Pages or the Lifeline service finder (http://justlook.org.au/) to find out what groups are being run.

Acknowledgments

Some of the information is adapted from the book "After Suicide, Help For The Bereaved" by Sheila Clark. Published in 1995 by Hill of Content Publishing Company Pty Ltd, Melbourne 3000.

Thanks to Sheila for also reviewing these fact sheets. The information is not specifically about suicide and should be of assistance to anyone who is bereaved.

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2 Responses to “Managing Grief”

  1. Jacquie says:

    Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is one of the best authors to read when you’ve gone through loss. I loved On Death &; Dying and I’ve also read The Tunnel & the Light. How to Deal with Grief by Karen Colquhoun is a good read too. What I have found difficult is that people who havent gone through something big don’t understand. I tend to go into my cave when it gets bad.

  2. James says:

    I have personally experienced some of the symptoms of grief, exempt without a direct loss. Someone very close to me became critically ill and I was deeply affected. Today they are alive but the memories of that experience still live on.

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