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Our funeral directors have pooled their knowledge to answer some common questions about grief. Click on the questions below to be taken to the answers.
- How long can I expect my grief to last?
- Am I going crazy?
- How do I manage my grief?
- How do I deal with the loss of a loved one?
- How do I deal with the loss of a parent?
- How do I deal with the loss of an infant?
- How do I deal with the loss of a child?
- What do I do when a work colleague has passed away?
- How do I deal with grief when someone has died suddenly?
- How do I deal with the suicide of someone I know?
- What do I say to a grieving child?
- What do I say to a grieving friend?
- Are there counselling services specifically for grief?
- How do I share my grief with someone from a different culture to me?
- How important is a permanent memorial to coping with grief?
There is no time frame for grief as it is a personal experience. Your grief will last as long as it lasts.
Grief doesn't follow a neat progression of stages or cycles. It's a very complicated and personal thing. There will be a lot of regression, or backtracking to earlier "stages" or "tasks". And that's okay. It just means you are fully working it through in your own way.
Family and friends may not understand and even become frustrated should they think you are not 'getting over' the loss of your loved one.
There are times we feel like we are going crazy during our grieving. This can involve a lack of concentration, disorganisation, and a numbness that we seem unable to move out of.
Grief affects people physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. People may be required to make adjustments to their lives like learning new skills, at a time when they feel least able to do so.
If you are feeling like you are going crazy, you are probably fine, and this may be a normal part of your grief process.
There are a number of things you can do which include:
- Accept your own feelings - understand that what you are feeling is natural. Let yourself cry, talk about the loss, or have a laugh.
- Take each step one at a time - live each day as it comes. Understand and accept disruption in your life.
- Take control of the things you can. Understand there are things you have little or no control over. Give yourself permission to grieve.
- Talk to friends and family members - express what you are feeling - your fear, your hurt and your loss. Talk about your loved one – the good and not so good times – it will begin to help.
- Look after yourself - make sure you eat, drink, sleep and get fresh air. Try to avoid alcohol and sedatives.
- Ask for help - don’t think you have to cope on your own. Often people want to help but don’t know how, so tell them what you need – whether it’s a shoulder to cry on or help with funeral arrangements.
- Understand your friends - friends can be impatient or not understand exactly what you are going through as they haven’t experienced loss themselves, so tell them what you feel and share your grief.
- Be prepared for ups and downs - memories sparked by birthdays and anniversaries for example, can bring you down. It can help if you find a way to remember the person that brings you comfort. Visiting the cemetery or a favourite place might be a suggestion.
- Accept loss as a part of life - If you love someone you must also be willing to let them go when their life ends.
- Be aware of advice givers - don’t allow people to entice you into replacing or avoiding your grief such as by going on holidays or making a large purchase.
- Don’t make any major decisions – putting your house on the market or going overseas to get away from things won’t help and will only cause more stress. These decisions can wait.
- Join a support group – grief can feel very lonely, even when you have loved ones around. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help.
- Talk to a therapist or grief counsellor – If your grief feels like too much to bear, call a mental health professional with experience in grief counselling.
Sometimes it may feel like the sadness will never end. While these feelings can be frightening and overwhelming, they are normal reactions to loss. Accepting them as part of the grieving process and allowing yourself to feel what you feel is necessary for healing.
Grief is also a unique and intensely personal experience. How you experience grief depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, the nature of the loss and the support you have around you.
The grieving process always takes time, as does the healing process. Even members of the one family mourning the loss of the same person will show their grief in different ways or will begin to recover from grief at different times.
Another way of looking at grief is to acknowledge that it is our natural resistance to the changes brought about by a person’s death. Over time you will adapt to these changes in your life, your thoughts, your hopes, your beliefs and your future.
It is very important to allow yourself to express your feelings. Often, death is a subject that is avoided, ignored or denied. At first it may seem helpful to separate yourself from the pain or ignore your feelings, but you cannot avoid grieving forever. Someday those buried feelings will need to be resolved or they may cause physical or emotional illness.
Seldom are we, whether as an adult or a child, ready for a parent’s death. Losing a mother or father is difficult to come to terms with, because you've lost part of your past, a part of yourself, a friend, a helper – someone who has looked after you and cared for you during your whole life.
When grieving the loss of a parent, remember it is typical to experience intense emotions like anger, sadness, loneliness and helplessness. Take the time to adapt to each feeling rather than trying to control it. Through acceptance, you can allow yourself to fully experience emotions without judging whether you should be feeling the way you do. Try to continue with your daily routine as much as possible, taking each day one at a time.
Infant death is one of the most devastating experiences any parent could face. Nothing can take away the pain or fill the infant's place in your heart.
Parents often retain strong feelings of guilt and sometimes a sense of responsibility for what happened even when they've been told there was nothing they could have done to prevent the death.
Acknowledging your baby's death - as well as your lost hopes and dreams for the baby's future - is an important part of the grieving process. It's often comforting and therapeutic to share your grief and feelings with others who have had similar losses.
The death of a child is unlike any other loss you will ever experience. It is devastating and alters lives forever.
Whether expected or unexpected, regardless of age or cause, a child’s death seems unbelievable, unfair and soul wrenching. When a child dies, parents feel that a part of them has died and that a vital and core part of them has been ripped away.
The loss of a child is the loss of innocence, the death of the most vulnerable and dependent. The death of a child signifies the loss of the future, of hopes and dreams, of new strength, and of perfection.
Parents will always feel the empty place in their hearts caused by the child's death. Parents will always be the loving father and mother of that child.
Grief, though painful, is a journey that can help us create a new life. It’s a journey into a ‘new normal’ where hope, meaning and joy can live again. Parents must find ways to hold onto their memories so that their child is always a treasured part of their life.
When a colleague dies it leaves both a personal and professional void as these days, most people spend more of their waking hours at the workplace than at home.
We form relationships, even if those relationships consist of merely saying hello as you pass by someone's desk each morning. A co-worker's death can mean the loss of a friend, but also the loss of someone we depend on to help us do our jobs.
Feelings of grief are different for everyone. Grieving staff may feel sad for the loss of the person who is gone from their lives, feel relief at the end of a person’s suffering, or re-experience the grief of their own past losses. To help the grieving and healing process it is essential to support one another and talk openly about the deceased co-worker.
The sudden death of a person close to you is always a very painful and difficult experience. A sudden, accidental, unexpected or traumatic death can generate intense grief responses such as shock, disbelief, guilt, anger, sudden depression, despair and hopelessness.
The grief response following a sudden loss is often intensified since there was little or no opportunity to prepare for the loss, to say goodbye, to finish unfinished business or to prepare for bereavement.
Sudden losses, like all losses, are very distinct and are likely to affect survivors in many different ways. One cannot compare loss. The greatest loss is the one that the grieving person is suffering right now. Each loss creates its own unique issues. It is important to allow each family member to express their grief in their own time and individual style.
Grief after suicide is similar to grief after other types of death. However suicide raises additional complex grief issues because of the sudden and traumatic nature of the death.
A loss due to suicide can be among the most difficult losses to bear. It can leave family and friends with the tremendous burden of unanswered questions and this can be very hurtful. If you are going through feelings like this in the first few weeks after a suicide then counselling may be beneficial.
People usually attempt suicide to block out their own unbearable emotional or physical pain, which can be due to a wide variety of factors. When a person commits suicide they are often so distressed that they cannot see that they have other options. They often also feel terribly isolated and because of this distress, they do not think of anyone they can turn to which only deepens their isolation.
The most important thing to remember is that very often the signs of distress and helplessness in a person thinking about suicide are not always obvious and no one is to blame for the suicide.
When helping children deal with their grief, it is probably most important to remember at least two things:
- Be honest in what we say, and
- Be open with our emotions.
Children deserve clear and honest answers to their questions, especially the difficult ones. They also deserve for us to be open with them concerning our own grief.
Often cuddles, hugs and some quiet time together will satisfy a child who is feeling frightened or unsure about the changes happening in the family.
Adults should not hide their own tears from children of any age - your grief will show them that they need not be ashamed or scared to express their own. If children don’t have good role models in the process of grieving they may learn unhelpful ways of coping with grief such as masking their true feelings or believing that they must bear their hurt, confusion, questions, anger or fear silently.
It’s often hard to know just what to say when you know someone who’s grieving. We tend to avoid the subject and the person or people who are affected by the death.
The best thing to do is allow the person to cry and show how they feel. Talk about the person who’s died and listen to the circumstances of the death.
Saying something like, “I’m sorry” is simple but can mean so much to someone who is grieving. They often just need someone to talk to, someone who’ll let them share their feelings and their memories.
It’s best not to say things like “be brave” or “be strong” – this encourages grieving people to bottle up their feelings, and avoid saying “I know how you feel” – we can never feel another’s inner feelings, or fully know all the things that are part of someone else’s grief.
The most loving thing you can do for your friend is just be there with them and for them. Offer practical help such as buying groceries or cooking meals. Do this not just in the days straight after the death but in the months to come when the real effect of the death is often being felt.
It is important to know you don’t have to go through this alone. Asking for help, even professional help is not a sign of weakness or failure, it could be just the support you are looking for. Most people find they feel better after speaking with someone about what they are going through. Grief support services can also give assistance to help you put strategies in place to help cope with the grief in a loving and caring way.
Counsellors can also offer you encouragement, support and advice. They will not tell you what to do or how you should be feeling, but they may put forward ideas and strategies to help you cope.
All societies have their own customs and beliefs surrounding death.
It is vitally important for people to respect a culture's traditions, rituals and practices, even if you are not familiar with them or don’t understand them.
Ultimately, grief is a uniquely personal experience and each person who misses the departed should be able to express their grief in the most appropriate manner.
Sharing your thoughts and memories of the departed can show to people of other cultures just how much that person meant to you, and can keep lines of communication open for you to continue to share your memories in the years ahead.
A permanent memorial is very important to coping with grief.
For example, when a loved one is buried there is a place where loved ones can always visit, any time they want, and they can be with their thoughts for the person they are missing. This can be very important at times of the year like Mother's or Father's Day, at Christmas and at anniversaries.
Places holding permanent memorials are also places where people feel they have permission to express their emotions of loss, sadness and even anger. It can be very helpful for people dealing with grief to have a place like this.
When someone is cremated, families often choose to scatter the ashes at a place that was significant to their loved one: the garden in the family home, for example. However, people can lose touch with locations such as this when the family home is sold, or when the land use rules for a favoured location, like a park or golf course, are changed.
Many families now choose to create a permanent memorial for their cremated loved one, as well as taking a portion of the ashes to scatter at a place of significance. This gives the family all the benefits of having a permanent place to visit, as well as honouring the wishes of their loved one to have their ashes scattered somewhere close to their heart.
Grief support services
There are many services who can support you during this time.
How to help after a death
Here are some ideas to help friends and family experiencing grief.
Grief on special days
Birthdays, Christmas and other special days can magnify your sense of loss and mourning.
Days to remember
If a loved one has recently passed away, these days can trigger emotions and grief.