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What is grief? Your guide to grief and loss
Our caring women have helped thousands of families deal with grief after losing a loved one. Below, they answer your questions about recognising, processing and moving through grief.
What is grief?
Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s a powerful emotion that can feel overwhelming. It can show up in different ways – sadness, anger, shock, denial.
Grief can affect your emotions, behaviour, physical health and your relationships. Depending on your relationship to the person who’s died, you might feel lost, alone or heartbroken. It can also leave you feeling disengaged or even numb.
There’s no right or wrong response to grief. It’s different for everyone, but it doesn’t last forever.
How long does grief last?
After working with grieving families for decades, we know that grief doesn't follow a set timeline. It affects us all differently – it can last for a few weeks, months or even years.
You need to be patient with yourself and others who are going through it. Some people will seem to move on faster or grieve differently. If it’s taking you a little longer to move on, that’s okay. It’s perfectly normal.
Researchers have identified five stages we commonly go through while we deal with grief. We may not experience all the stages, and we might regress or skip a stage. Still, understanding the common phases of grieving might help you move past it.
You can read about the five stages of grief here.
How do I deal with the loss of a close friend or family member?
Dealing with grief is something we all do in our own time and in our own way. What works for some may not work for others.
However, simply acknowledging your loss is the best way to begin processing it. It might be tempting to avoid thinking about it – but those feelings will eventually catch up with you.
Be open and honest about how you feel – even if it’s only to yourself. It can be painful and difficult, but acknowledging these feelings is the only way to truly move through your grief.
Here are some things you can try to begin healing from your loss:
- Write down a list of things you loved about the person
- Share a story or memory of your lost loved one with a close friend or family member
- Visit their memorial, grave site or a place that was special to them
- Find your favourite photo or video of them
- Reach out to a professional, like a counsellor or therapist
- Ask your dedicated Funeral Specialist for some grief resources
What do I do when a work colleague passes away?
At work, we’re always told to “keep things professional”. But when a colleague dies, it can be deeply upsetting for you and the rest of your team. These days, we spend so much of our time at work that we often build lasting connections with our co-workers. So, if they suddenly pass, it can feel like losing a close friend.
Talking openly about the loss with your other colleagues is an important step in the healing process. You might like to hold a memorial breakfast or a toast to them at the end of the day. It’s a great opportunity to come together and reflect on the unique talents your colleague brought to the team.
How can I help someone who’s grieving?
Sometimes, simply letting them know you’re there for them is the most meaningful thing you can do. It can be hard to know what to say to someone who’s grieving. Try beginning with “I’m sorry for your loss” and ask if they’d like to talk about it. This can help you determine whether to keep the conversation going or if they need some space.
There are a few things to be careful of. Telling someone to “be brave’ or “be strong” might encourage them to keep their feelings bottled up. It’s better to let them know that expressing their feelings is a healthy way to begin healing.
You might also want to avoid saying, “I know how you feel”. Grief is such a personal experience, and we can never fully understand what someone else is going through. Instead, you might ask them what they need from you – to listen, to comfort them or perhaps give them some space.
If you notice the person is really struggling, you might consider asking if they need some extra support. There are plenty of resources and support services available to help people in times of grief. You can find a list of them here.
What impact does a funeral have on the grieving process?
Attending your loved one’s funeral can be a powerful step in the grieving process. It’s a chance to reflect on their life and remember all the wonderful memories you shared.
Coming together with close friends and family can show you you’re not alone. It can be an opportunity to share meaningful stories with others and learn new things about your loved one even after they’re gone.
Funerals can also bring us a sense of closure. If the death was sudden and unexpected, it can be hard to believe they’re actually gone. It’s often not until the funeral that we begin to accept what’s happened.
Are there support services to help you deal with grief?
In Australia, we’re lucky to have a range of free and paid services available to help us deal with grief and loss. There are hotlines you can call any time of the day to speak to someone about how you’re feeling. You can also sit down with a counsellor or chat with them over the phone. Support groups and online communities are also available to help people heal together.
We’ve put together a list of services and resources to help support you through your loss. You can find it here.
This information is based on our interactions with grieving families and resources we have collected over the years.
More help and information
A collection of support services, hotlines and resources to help you manage your loss.
Coping with grief
Words of wisdom and strategies to help you cope with grief.
What are the stages of grief?
We explain the five common phases of dealing with grief and loss.
What is ‘bargaining’?
Helping you understand the challenging third stage of grief.