What is grief?

Grief is the natural response to loss. It affects every part of us – feelings, body, mind, spirit and relationships with others. Everyone's grief is unique.

Grief has no set pattern or order, the depth and duration of each grief experience is different for everyone. Yet those who experience grief share common reactions and responses. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It helps to know what is and isn't a normal reaction to loss, so that you can recognise when you or others may need professional counselling and support.

While everyone grieves in their own way, it is normal for grieving to involve a range of strong feelings, physical symptoms, patterns of thought, behaviours and spiritual responses. These responses can be at a level that disrupts someone's capacity to function and manage the demands of day to day living.

What to expect

Feelings – the experience of loss

  • Numbness – initially the body goes on autopilot
  • Sadness – a deep emotional response
  • Shock and disbelief
  • Loneliness, emptiness and isolation
  • Denial and difficulty accepting the loss
  • Anxiety, frustration, blaming, agitation
  • Guilt, regret, helplessness; a sense of not doing enough
  • Fear, anxiety and/or depression
  • Relief
  • Panic
  • Anger
  • Feeling out of control
  • Lack of emotions
  • Acceptance – the path of healing and new meaning

Physical symptoms – the sensations

  • Pain – chest, stomach, headache, joints
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness – a deep sense of fatigue
  • Sensitivity – to noise and light
  • Muscle weakness, shakes or trembling
  • Changed digestion – nausea, diarrhoea or constipation
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry mouth

Thoughts – the mental impact

  • Confusion – muddled and disorganised
  • Poor concentration – distractibility, absent mindedness
  • Obsession – preoccupation with what happened

Behaviours – the grief expression

  • Eating – more or less appetite than usual
  • Crying – weeping at any time
  • Overactivity – restlessness, needing to be busy, but sometimes aimless
  • Seeking – the reason for illness and death
  • Substance abuse – increased use of alcohol and/or medications
  • Difficulty sleeping – also wishing to sleep more
  • Dreaming – about who died and what happened

Social behaviours

  • Withdrawal – inability to socialise or avoidance of others
  • Feeling alienated or detached, or needing to be with others.

Spiritual responses – the spiritual impact

  • Loss of meaning and purpose
  • Questioning faith and beliefs
  • A sense of emptiness
  • Loss of joyfulness
  • Loss of direction


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