Understanding grief

What do we mean by grief?

Grief is a natural reaction to loss, but in some cases it can be devastating, causing a loss of direction, affecting our relationships and our work.

When someone is grieving, especially it is their first experience of the death of someone close to them, not knowing what to expect or how to handle certain situations often intensifies their grief. Many people report that feeling they have little control over what is happening to them or around them is a significant factor that contributes to their anguish.

No two people will experience the death of a loved one in the same way, so it's impossible to really know another person's pain or sense of loss. It's difficult to predict how you will grieve because it depends on many factors. These include your personality, the way you tend to deal with problems, the way you think about things that happen in your life, the nature of your relationship you had with the person who died, and the circumstances surrounding their death. Even if you have experienced the death of other people in your life, your grief will be different each time. What makes grief so complex is that with the death of one person, those left behind experience many kinds of loss. If you accept that your grief is unique, then it makes sense that there is no one way to grieve. Part of the struggle of grieving involves working out what you need to do to adjust to life without your loved one.

From the moment you learn about the death of a loved one, your life changes forever. The amount of change relates to the degree of adjustment and new learning that you have to undertake. Too often others expect you to ‘get back to normal' within weeks. This is unrealistic because your life has changed and it will never be the same as it was before. The process of grieving is healthy and adaptive - it gives you the time and space to adjust to the many changes that result from the death of your loved one, both at a physical and an emotional level. Even though you may never learn to ‘get over' the death of your loved one, it is possible to learn to live without them physically in your life and to find meaning again.

During the first months following a bereavement of your loved one you might feel as if your grief has a life of its own, with total control over you. You may feel that there is absolutely nothing you can do to loosen its grip. Often people say that they feel hopeless and powerless, and describe a feeling of being ‘out of control' which can be very disconcerting. Trying to regain a sense of control and order in your life will shift the balance of power so that, gradually, you can begin to overcome the hold grief has on you. There are many strategies that can help you start to take control of your life again, which tackle your thoughts about your loved one's death, as well as your behaviour.

One of the hardest things about grieving is that no one else can do it for you. At times you may wonder whether what you are experiencing is ‘normal'. You might have lots of unanswered questions and you may have many well-meaning friends who tell you that they know how you are feeling and what you should be doing. But because grieving is something you need to do for yourself, the best advice is to take things slowly and pay attention to your inner voice. Listen to your grief. Even though, logically, you know your loved one has died, you need time to reconcile what has happened and to work out what is best for you. Unfortunately, at a time when you are likely to be most vulnerable, grieving requires you to become your best advocate by speaking up for what you need.

Grieving is an ongoing process that knows no time limits. Hopefully, one day, you will get to a point where you will be able to say to yourself that you feel as if you have overcome your grief - of the hold it had on you - while knowing your loved one and the life you shared will never be forgotten.


Even though no one can grieve for you, Overcoming Grief can help you work out what it is you need to do to get through this difficult time in your life. For more about the book >


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