- About grief & how to help
Put simply, grief is our response to the impact of a loss in our life.
There are many reasons why we grieve
- We grieve because we have loved.
- We grieve because something significant in our life has been taken from us.
- We grieve because someone that we were attached to is gone.
- We grieve because unwelcome changes have disrupted our life.
- We grieve because our hopes, plans and dreams have not worked out.
And it hurts.
Whilst there are some general patterns common to grieving people, each person's experience is unique. The initial shock, disbelief, numbness and sense of being 'on auto pilot' is often how grieving begins and is naturally heightened when death is sudden and unexpected.
Grief affects our feelings, the way we think and behave and it can adversely affect our health and wellness. It's normal, natural and necessary for us to grieve. Even though we may try to hide it, or pretend we are alright, grief can't really be avoided. The only cure for grief is to let yourself do your grieving.
Some people believe that time will heal. In truth, it's not that simple. Time itself doesn't actually have any magical healing properties, but it does allow us to get used to what has happened and it allows reality to slowly sink in. As time goes by, the rawness of the pain usually eases but many people describe themselves as going two steps forward and one step back as they try to cope.
Sometimes grieving people fear they are going crazy. This is simply because their grief is so intense and confusing and they have to adapt to so many changes which this loss has brought. This can be scary, make us panic and wears us out. We can feel angry and resentful that this has happened and ask the question 'why?' over and over. There is nothing wrong with you if you feel this way. We can even be angry with the person who is gone - how could they leave me like this?
Some people ask, "When will I get over this?". It's important to understand that we needn't try to get over the death. It's more realistic to try to learn ways of managing your life without this special person, being kind and patient with yourself, finding people and activities that support you as well as positive ways of expressing how you are feeling.
For more information, please see our factsheets.
Helping grieving people
Helping grieving people is not about finding ways to take their grief away.
Your role is not to:
- Fix their grief
- Stop them from talking about it
- Keep their mind off it
- Encourage them to be 'strong and brave'
- Stop them from crying
Research carried out in Sydney, Australia in the 1970's concluded that one of the factors which most impacted on the wellbeing of widows was to have people around who allowed them to do their grieving. Someone who didn't say 'don't cry', someone who allowed the feelings they had to genuinely come out. The same still holds true today.
Helping a grieving friend
If you want to help a grieving friend, an important place to start is to arm yourself with good information about grief. This will help you to truly understand why they are thinking, feeling and behaving the way they are.
You don't have to say something to take their grief away. So many of the common clichés we hear are best to be avoided. Try not to say:
- "Time will heal."
- "You're strong, you'll get over it."
- "Be brave, don't cry."
The power of just listening to your friend tell their story can't be overemphasised. Most grieving people will be alright about telling you what happened and how they're coping, even if they cry or are angry or feeling overwhelmed by it all. Being able to tell someone who just listens can be a real relief.
Grief doesn't go away quickly
It's important to remember to keep an eye on your friend over time. Be patient with them. Remember them on special days like birthdays, Christmas time, anniversaries and family occasions when they may really be missing their loved one. Include them in invitations for social activities - but be aware that it will be hard to go out and do the things they used to do when their family was complete.
Grieving can be a lonely experience
Don't underestimate how helpful you can be just by staying in touch and asking how your friend is coping.
Remember, you don't have to fix their grief or say something cheerful. Imagine your role as being someone who allows the grief to be aired, explored, explained, so that it doesn't stay locked up inside because everyone is uncomfortable with it. If you can do this, you will be truly helpful.
For more information, we recommend our factsheets.