How does grief feel?

Grief is not just sadness. It's a whole range of feelings and experiences. You may feel guilty, happy, sad, tearful, feel like laughing or screaming. You are not going crazy. Your mood may change but that's normal.

Numbness

Sometimes people feel nothing. They just can't believe it's true. It may feel like the person who has died has just gone on holiday and one day they will suddenly walk in the door and say, "I'm home again!" You may feel like you're in a bad dream and one day soon you'll wake up.

Shock and the sense of numbness help us through the first days and weeks after a loss. Don't feel you have to push yourself past this. The sense of numbness will start to fade although it may return from time to time. As time passes the reality of your loss will become clearer.

Sadness

Sometimes you feel like you'll never stop crying. You long to see the person so much you just don't know what to do with yourself. At other times you might feel terribly sad but can't seem to cry, even though you feel you are crying inside.

Anger

Some people feel angry at times. Some people feel angry with God, with the person who has died, with death, with themself, with health professionals or family members. Sometimes someone does something small that makes you very angry – just out of the blue for no reason at all! This is normal. Try to notice when this happens. What is this really about?

Loneliness

Loneliness is common. You may miss having someone around to chat to about the ordinary things. It can be lonely, when others move on in their lives, while you're still feeling your loss.

Relief, guilt and regret

Relief can also be a common emotion when someone dies. Sometimes it's a relief that it has happened at last: that this death that you've been worrying about for months has finally happened. It's normal to feel pleased that a person's suffering is over, or relief that someone you had a difficult relationship with is no longer around.

It may be hard not to feel guilty about feeling relieved. Although you may be surprised by your feelings, they are a normal response to your situation.

You may feel guilty about the things you did or wish you had done differently, and there may be regrets for the way things happened in the past. When someone dies we lose the opportunity to change things. Try to remember that no one is perfect. Often, talking it over with someone else helps. You might also feel guilty for joking and laughing, or feeling happy at times. But it's okay to do those things: it doesn't mean that you aren't grieving.

Fear and panic

People often become very fearful when they have a major loss in their lives. You may feel worried about other people you love, or fear for your own safety. Little things that were no trouble to you before can throw you, and you worry about how you'll cope. This will pass; there is a lot going on. If this continues, think about seeing your doctor or a counsellor to talk about ways to manage this.

Depression

Sometimes people can feel depressed or not interested in things going on around them. This may express itself as a loss of self-esteem, a lack of direction or purpose. "Why me?" is a question people find themselves asking a lot. If you feel down most of the time, or others close to you are concerned about you, talk to your doctor or a counsellor.

Rejection

When someone dies or leaves, you might feel rejected and left behind. People with a religious faith may feel that God has forgotten them, at a time when they particularly need support. Sometimes people feel rejected by the friends they thought would be most supportive or out of place at social functions because of their changed situation. Grieving people are often surprised by which people offer the best support; often it's someone who has experienced a major loss themselves in the past.

Confusion and forgetfulness

Often people find they are confused and forgetful, and even getting simple tasks done can seem hard. It's as if your mind is filled with thoughts of what has happened, or foggy and you may find it hard to think clearly. Make a list and tick items off. This may help you feel like you are doing things and remembering them.

Being very tired

Don't be surprised if you have no energy and always feel tired. Getting used to change is tiring. You may find you can't sleep well or you want to sleep all the time.

Dreams and visions

Dreams and nightmares are common after a major loss. When someone has died, people often experience them in some way. Hearing their voice, feeling their presence or sensing them around can be a common experience. If you believe people live on after death, you may find this comforting; if not, you may be frightened or disturbed by it. Sometimes, you might see them everywhere; catching sight of them in the distance in the street, only to find it's someone else when you get closer. This is normal. If you are worried, talk to someone about it.

Physical effects

Grief is experienced in your body too: feeling tense, having a headache, not feeling hungry, feeling sick, unexplained aches and pains or a tight feeling in the chest are all common.

These things are normal, but talk over anything that's worrying you with your doctor. If lack of sleep becomes a real problem for you, tell your doctor about that too: a short course of something to help you sleep may make things much easier to deal with. Lack of sleep can make anybody's day feel awfully grim. Ring and talk with an information nurse at the Cancer Society. They may be able to help with ideas that others have found helpful.

Anniversaries and other special times

Anniversaries of the death (especially the first anniversary) and other special days such as birthdays, holidays and getting together with families or friends may feel overwhelming, confusing or worrying. Don't be surprised by this, it's very common. Often the best way of handling it is to be prepared.

Think about what you would like to do. Many people find planning activities with others around these times gives them a focus and provides support. Ideas include planning to visit the grave, having a family dinner, visiting a beach or park that you know the person enjoyed, looking at photos, watching a DVD they loved, making their favourite recipe or lighting a candle.

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