Coping with Grief

Everyone differs in the way we react to the loss of a loved one and in how grief is experienced.  There is no right or wrong way when dealing with grief as it is a very personal and individual experience. Grief can impact on your body, emotions, thoughts and behaviours. Below are some examples of how grief may affect someone and some tips on how to help deal with grief.

physical reactions

The phrase ‘having a broken heart’ recognises that grief impacts on our physical health. Physical reactions could include:
• increased susceptibility to minor illnesses (eg colds, viruses)
• lack of energy, feeling tired and run down
• heart palpitations
• sore or tense muscles or a feeling of weakness in the muscles
• stomach upsets, diarrhoea, constipation or other gastrointestinal problems
• headaches
• shortness of breath, may be accompanied by pain in the chest
• disrupted sleep or appetite.


The mind is capable of creating powerful sensations and images. Your thoughts may
be focused on the deceased person and your changed circumstances for some time.
Some common thought reactions could include:
• forgetting things easily or having difficulty taking in new information
• becoming easily confused
• preoccupation with the person who has passed away
• mind going blank
• mind racing out of control
• trouble concentrating
• sense of your loved one’s presence – ‘seeing or hearing’ the person who has passed away
• dreaming of the deceased person.


When someone important to you has died, you will find yourself experiencing strong feelings.
Some of these feelings may include:
• hurt
• sadness
• shock
• guilt
• anger
• anxiety
• loneliness
• sense of unreality
• confusion
• numbness
• emptiness
• devastation
• helplessness
• yearning or pining
• relief
• depression.
Whatever feelings you have, it is important to recognise them as a normal part of the process.


During the grieving process you may experience changes in behaviour.
Some of these behaviours may include:
• becoming more quiet and withdrawn
• wanting to talk about the deceased as often as possible
• seeking out reminders of the deceased
• avoiding reminders of the person who has died
• losing interest in regular activities
• crying
• losing patience easily
• restless overactivity or total inactivity
• increased use of alcohol / drugs
• voicing thoughts or wishes about being dead
• not eating or overeating

what can help at this time

There are many things you can do to help yourself at this time.
Some suggestions follow:
• Find a good listener who will listen non-critically, even when you want to go over the same information time and again.
• Take care of yourself. Pay special attention to diet, sleep and exercise.
• Give yourself time to go through the grieving process. Don’t expect too much too soon. Set your own pace – do not allow others (no matter how well meaning) to dictate your grief.
• Make sure you have some time on your own.
• Ask for what you need from family and friends. Sometimes others do not know what to say or do and hence keep their distance, or inadvertently make an insensitive remark. Tell them what helps you.
• Talk about the deceased person. Use their name. They were and still are an important part of your life.
• Celebrate the life of the deceased in any way that has meaning for you.
• Acknowledge that there will be ups and downs in your grieving process. Some days will be better than others.
• Remember the deceased as the person they really were. This means that it’s okay to remember some of their weaknesses and annoying habits as well as their strengths and endearing qualities. It helps the grieving process to remember the real person, rather than a fantasy.
• Anticipate that certain ‘anniversary’ dates are likely to trigger strong feelings and reactions.  These dates could include a birthday, anniversary, graduation, Christmas, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. In addition there could be other significant dates connected with the death or mourning activities which can intensify grief reactions. Experiencing reactions at these times is normal. Over time the intensity of these reactions is likely to lessen.

hints to help your friend

If you know someone who is grieving, you may be uncertain about what you can do to help them. Even if you feel the natural feelings of being unqualified or uncomfortable, there are still lots of things you can do to support your friend.
• Be a good listener. Be yourself – show your concern to your friend.
• Allow your friend to “work through” the grief. Offer some practical assistance.  Ask how you can help. Ask if you can help with any work to be done, or help prepare meals.
• Keep in touch with your friend – healing time may vary from months to years.

Things to avoid when supporting someone who is grieving .
• Avoid clichés and easy answers such as “we’re never given more than we can handle” or ”everything happens for a reason”.
• Try not to minimise the loss Saying things like “think of all the good times” is often not helpful.
• Avoid pushing your friend to move on, reassure your friend that grief takes time.
• Avoid telling your friend how to feel, do not ask for details and do not change the subject.

Please feel free to download our  coping with grief  booklet