Home / Tools & Guidance / Bereavement Guide / Navigating grief

Navigating grief

Tips to help you after the death of a loved one

The death of a loved one is generally life’s most painful and stressful event, and our reactions to death are still one of society’s least understood and most off-limits topics.

Once the necessary arrangements have been made and broader family and friends go back to their normal life, the bereaved are often left feeling alone and isolated.

An immensely painful but natural emotion following death, grief can be likened to an open wound as it tends to heal slowly and at times, feels like it may never go away.

We know, however, that the feelings of devastation and incompleteness do start to fade with time, despite being all-consuming in the beginning.

Healing is a process of allowing ourselves to feel, experience and accept the pain. In other words, we need to give ourselves permission to heal. Allowing acceptance of these feelings is the beginning of that process.

The grieving process

When we experience a major loss, grief is the normal and natural way our mind and body react.

Everyone grieves differently but at the same time, there are commonalties. For example, someone experiencing grief usually moves through a series of emotional stages, such as shock, numbness, guilt, anger and denial.

Physical responses are also typical and include sleeplessness, mood swings, inability to eat or concentrate, lack of energy, and lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed.

As cliché as it sounds, often time is the biggest healer. As the days, weeks and months go by, you will move through emotional and physical reactions that lead toward acceptance, healing and getting on with life as fully as possible.

That being sad, it is completely natural to feel overwhelmed during the grieving process. Here are some tips to help you manage your grief and reduce its emotional and physical impacts.

“Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so hopeless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.” ~ ARTHUR GOLDEN

Back to top

Realise your grief is unique

No-one will grieve in the exact same way.

Your experience will be influenced by a variety of factors, including the relationship you had with the person who passed away, the circumstances surrounding the death, your emotional support system, and your cultural and religious background. As a result, you will grieve in your own special way. Don’t try to compare your experience with others’ or adopt assumptions regarding how long your grief should last. Instead, take a ‘one-day-at-a-time’ approach allowing you to grieve at your own pace.

Back to top

Talk about your grief

Express your grief openly, as this is a normal part of the grief journey and an important step in the healing process. Ignoring your grief won’t make it go away and despite what you may think, talking often makes you feel better.

Allow yourself to speak from your heart and never feel that this means you are losing control or going “crazy”.

Back to top

Develop support systems with the right people

Reaching out to others and accepting support can be difficult for many people. One of the best ways to encourage healing, however, is to establish a support system of caring friends and relatives.

Find people who encourage you to be yourself and acknowledge your feelings, and avoid those who are critical or try to downplay your grief. Comments like “keep your chin up”, “carry on”, or “be happy” may be well intended, but unfortunately can often have the opposite effect.

It can also be especially healing to talk to those who have lost loved ones from the same cause/s, as they can understand and relate to what you are going through.

Back to top

Expect to feel a variety of emotions

Experiencing a loss affects your head, heart and spirit. You may experience a variety of emotions as part of the grieving process, including confusion, disorganisation, fear, guilt, relief, and/or explosive emotions to name a few.

Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time, or they may occur simultaneously. Either way, they are completely normal and healthy.

Don’t be surprised if out of nowhere you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. These grief attacks can be frightening and leave you feeling overwhelmed but remember, they are a natural response to the passing of a loved one.

Back to top

Be kind to yourself

Feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired and your lower energy levels may slow you down.

Respect what your body is telling you. Nurture yourself, get lots of rest, eat balanced meals, and lighten your schedule as much as you can.

Caring for yourself doesn’t mean feeling sorry for yourself. It means using your survival skills, accepting your feelings, having compassion, and asking for help when you need it.

Back to top

Allow for numbness

Feeling dazed or numb when someone you loved passes away is often part of your early grief experience.

This numbness serves a valuable purpose: it gives your emotions time to catch up with what your mind has told you. This in turn helps create insulation from the reality of the passing, until you are able to tolerate what you don’t want to believe.

Back to top

Acknowledge the importance of the funeral ritual

The funeral ritual does more than commemorate the passing of a loved one. It is a way to express your grief, gain support from people who care, and establish some sort of ‘closure’.

If you eliminate this ritual, you often set yourself up to repress feelings which is an unhealthy and potentially harmful practise.

Also, be aware that if you decide against a funeral, it means others will not have the chance to pay tribute to a person they cared deeply for.

Back to top

Treasure memories

Memories are the most priceless legacy when someone passes away.

Don’t block them out, instead treasure and share them with family and friends. Recognise that your memories may make you laugh or cry but are a lasting part of the relationship you shared with that special person.

Back to top

Searching for meaning

You may find yourself asking, “Why did they die?” “Why this way?” “Why now?”

The search for meaning is another normal part of the healing process, with some questions that can be answered and others which remain open. Healing, however, ultimately occurs in the opportunity to pose the questions, not necessarily in answering them.

Finding a supportive friend or community who will listen and provide empathy as you search for meaning is immensely helpful.

Back to top

Embrace your spirituality

If faith is a part of your life, surround yourself with people who support your beliefs and won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.

You may find that some people will say, “with faith, you don’t need to grieve”. Be very mindful of this as faith does not insulate you from needing to talk about your thoughts and feelings.

Express your faith but remember to express your grief as well.

Back to top

More information to help you

We hope this information has provided valuable insight to help you navigate your way through grief and loss.

To further assist you, we have compiled a list of carefully curated websites and telephone numbers offering support for those who have lost someone special. You can access this here.

For more tips, plus guidance on the ‘practical’ requirements when a loved ones passes, please see our Feros Care Bereavement Guide. It highlights the immediate considerations when a death first occurs, who you need to contact, what happens after the funeral, reviewing possessions left behind, and the process of selling a deceased estate.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits all handbook for dealing with the death of a loved one, and we hope to make a positive difference during this difficult time.

Our expert team at Feros Care are available to contact via 1300 418 418.

Support is also available from Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 and Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Ask a Feros Care expert
Who would you like to talk to?
Disability Support expert 9am - 4pm (AEST) Monday to Friday