Grief– how to cope with it

Grief– how to cope with it

Grief is something the majority of people experience, at one or more occasions in their lives. As a grieving person, you need to deal with the many thoughts, emotions and reactions that arise – while life goes on.

What is grief? 

Grief is all the feelings, thoughts, bodily reactions and changes in behaviour that you experience during a loss. It is a natural reaction that activates the same system in the body as when you feel worry, anxiety and stress.

Grief often evokes existential thoughts and reflections about life and the future. Grieving takes time – the loss of a loved one is permanent, and the hole it leaves follows you through life, even if the grief changes character over time. 

What does grief feel like? 

Everyone experiences grief differently, even within the same family. There is no template for the “right way"” to grieve or show emotions. Grief simply takes different forms. 

How strong you experience your grief may depend on the relationship you had with the person who has died, your current life situation, or how the loss affects the rest of your life.

Different situations can bring up different feelings of grief.  A father may feel grief over the loss of his son most strongly on the way to a football match with his favourite club, while a sister may miss her brother the most in the afternoon, around the time when he used to come home from school. 

Emotions and reactions that may arise: 

  • Intense loss and longing for the person who has died

  • Sense of surreality

  • Physical pain

  • Worry and anxiety

  • Feeling of loneliness and meaninglessness

  • Changes in sleep, appetite and mood 

Keep in mind that grief takes a lot of energy and you may need to rest more than usual. It is especially important to take care of yourself during periods of grief. 

The immediate aftermath 

In the immediate aftermath of a death, you may move between painful realisation and a sense of surreality. On the other hand, sometimes everything feels disturbingly normal for a moment or two.  

Your everyday life is affected differently depending on who you have lost and that person’s role in your life. It can take time to fully understand the consequences of your loss. 

When someone dies, there are many practical things that need to be arranged and certain rituals are both important and expected. The funeral or memorial ceremony gives you the opportunity to say goodbye and is often a natural part of the grieving process. Some people find it comforting to handle practicalities such as arranging a funeral, while others may need relief and support instead. 

Keeping the memory alive 

Words can rarely comfort when someone has died, but many people find relief in spending time together with others who understand and accept their mourning process.  

It is equally important to be able to take a break from grieving. It can be helpful to spend time relaxing with loved ones or perhaps do something funny that makes you laugh. A break doesn’t mean that you have forgotten what’s happened or that the grief has disappeared, but it can help you cope. 

It’s painful to be confronted with the realisation that the person who has died will not come back and to deal with all the reactions, thoughts and feelings that arise. This loss can also lead to lost hopes and dreams for the future.  

You may also feel lost when you lose your role in life as someone’s wife, mother, or daughter. Even if right now it feels like you’ll never get over the pain - have faith that you will slowly become accustomed to the new situation.  

It used to be called “a year of mourning”, the first difficult year when you have to go through events without the person you have lost. Birthdays or other celebrations can make the loss feel especially strong. Some people find comfort in celebrating a holiday in the same way as before, while others want to try something completely new. 

One might describe the act of surviving a loved one’s death as continuing to live, without leaving them behind. A loved one never completely vanishes from our lives.  

The importance of the person and the relationship remains and can continue to be an important part of your life. It is very normal to talk to the person who has died, ask them for advice, or think that “Dad would be proud right now”, or “Mum wouldn’t have liked this at all”. 

Cherishing the memory of the person you have lost is a way to move on without leaving them behind. In the beginning, these memories may awaken such intense longing that you may want to avoid them. But in the long run, the memories of a loved one can be comforting and enrich your life.  

One way to approach this memory could be to do things that the person you have lost would have enjoyed. Like going to a football match with your favourite club or cook your favourite dish. Looking at photos or reading letters, e-mails, or messages you sent to each other can also be a great way to remember.  

Perhaps it can be something you want to share with others who are also mourning the same loss. Sharing memories is an important way to ensure that the dead are not forgotten. 

Finding new solutions when life is not as usual

Many people have experienced the pain of missing out on the opportunity to a last chance to see someone who then died. This was common during the COVID-19 pandemic. But there have always been plenty of other reasons for such missed opportunities. We may live far from our loved ones or be unable to travel due to conflicts or wars. This can be stressful and add to the pain and sadness of saying goodbye.  

We know how important it is to be close to someone when we are struggling. It’s a natural instinct and a common way for us to relieve worry and anxiety and comfort each other.  

When it’s not possible to meet in person, many families get creative and find other solutions to keep in touch - by way of phone calls, video calls, or getting in touch with other people who can mediate the contact.  

You can even try to include yourself in important rituals, such as funerals, or create your own - at a distance.