You may start to question your beliefs, re-examine your priorities or search for meaning or answers to your loss.
Going through grief can help you to deal with and reflect on what you've lost. If it feels too overwhelming – remember you’re not alone.
Sadness can also feel like being isolated, empty and lonely. A young person told us they were, “Feeling so lonely and lost and thinking of ways on how I can see them.”
Anger can also present as being frustrated, irritable and stressed. One young person told us, “When I’m sad, I feel angry and stressed and I can’t control my body.”
Anxiety can feel like being afraid, overwhelmed and wondering what’s going to happen next, and how long you might feel this way. A young person told us they felt they, “Couldn’t process the loss for an unexpected amount of time.”
Shock can leave you feeling incomplete, detached, numb, and behaving like things are normal. One young person told us they felt, “Like everyone else’s lives kept going while mine stopped.”
Denial might leave you feeling like you’re in a bit of a nightmare, that what has happened is surreal. You might experience a bit of mental fog and have a hard time concentrating. In time, it will pass. A young person told us, “You will miss this person for the rest of your life. But know your heart won’t always ache.”
Different types of grief you may not have heard of before
To highlight just how complicated and messy grief can be – let's take a look at some other types of grief you may have experienced without even knowing it.
Secondary grief is the secondary loss that comes from a primary loss. People who lose a parent through death not only grieve the loss of that person, but also grieve for the loss of lifestyle, e.g. not having both parents home in the evening or being able to go away on family holidays with both parents present. Secondary grief can really pack a punch and can often pop up unexpectedly.
Ambiguous grief is where you experience loss that doesn’t have closure or is left feeling unresolved. Many people who have an absent parent due to leaving the family feel this way – they have mourned the loss of that parent but still have many unanswered questions to why they left in the first place.
Disenfranchised grief is grief that you feel like you ‘aren’t allowed’ to feel. It’s grief that isn’t ‘supported’ by your community. Imagine you have an online partner who you have never met IRL but feel really connected to. Unfortunately, one day the relationship ends and you are devastated, but your family say things like “I don’t even know why you are so sad, you never even met them!” This is disenfranchised grief, because it feels like you have to hide your true feels because your fam don’t get it, or feel the same.
All types of grief are valid.
Allow yourself to experience your grief – whatever you are feeling, whether it’s sadness, numbness, or even happiness at remembering the good times, it’s ok – you are allowed to feel however you feel.
Look after yourself – it's ok to not have high expectations of yourself right now. Sometimes just getting through the day is a massive achievement.
Express your feelings – e.g., write it down, listen to music, drawing... however you like to express yourself.
Join in rituals – traditions can help you process your loss or find meaning in it. E.g., lighting a candle on important days/milestones to represent the person you’ve lost.
Preserve memories – you might create a tribute to honour their memory e.g., a photo album or scrap book highlighting their life and adventures.
Get support from family and friends – you don’t have to go through it alone. Sometimes people hide their grief, to ‘protect others’ (e.g., you don’t want to make them sad, so you don’t talk about it). It’s actually helpful to talk about it – it doesn’t just help you, it also helps others when you talk about your loss – it makes it safe for everyone to talk about.
Take breaks from grieving – forgetting your grief for a while or feeling happy is normal and healthy (and nothing to feel guilty about)! Moving forward doesn’t mean you forget about your loss. Moving forward (in your own time and when you’re ready) is often a way to honour the person that you lost. No one wants people they love to be sad forever. Good ways to take breaks can be to do something ‘normal’, like going to the shops
Prepare for ‘triggers’ – ugh, triggers are the worst. You think you’re doing better and then – BAM! You're a mess again. Things like anniversaries and milestones can make grief feel fresh again. Have a plan on how to manage these days, e.g., who you can talk to if you are triggered.
Be mindful of unhealthy coping strategies – when you feel miserable and desperate to feel better, it can be tempting to use strategies that might be unhealthy. These might make you feel better in the short term, but they can cause long term issues.
Know the difference between grief and depression – Sometimes grief can last a long time and get more severe. It can help to learn a bit about depression so you know what to look out for and can get support early if needed.
Did you know? Crying is a way we comfort ourselves when we are emotionally distressed. When we cry, our brain releases chemicals (neurotransmitters) that help relieve physical and emotional pain.
My friend lost someone – what do I say and do?
You might be scared of saying or doing the ‘wrong’ thing. We totally get it – it can feel awkward not knowing how to talk to your friend when they are grieving. Just remember - you love your friend, and they love you. Here’s some things young people told us can help.
- Show up/just be there. It’s tempting to avoid and give the person space (especially if you have uncomfortable feelings about it all), but this can make them feel isolated. If in doubt, ask them.
- Take care of practical stuff. Bring them some food, take their dog for a walk, or do things that are helpful.
- Do say, “It must be really hard.” “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now.” “Do you want to talk about it?”
- It’s ok to talk about the person/their loss. Sometimes, people avoid mentioning the name or anything about the person they lost – and this can make things harder. If you have doubts, ask, “Do you want to talk about them?” Side note: relationships are complicated. Your friend might have mixed feelings about the person they lost. Just because someone died doesn’t mean they were perfect, or even good. It’s ok if your friend has bad things to say about someone who has died.
- Don’t say, “Everything happens for a reason.” It might be meant to reassure them, but sometimes it can feel insensitive.
- Be yourself. One of the hardest things about losing someone is when people act weird. Lots of people want things to be as ‘normal’ as possible. If they’re back at school, it’s ok to act like your usual self around them. And, once again, if in doubt, you can ask them what would be most helpful for them.
- Don’t put all the responsibility on them. People mean well, but when they say, “I’m here if you need me,” that can make things harder. It means the person who is grieving has to use emotional energy to get help if they need it. Instead, check-in with them regularly and make suggestions. E.g. “Hello! Do you want to chat today?” “We’re getting ice cream – want to come?”
Sometimes you might wonder if you'll ever get through this. You will. With time and support, these feelings will change and you will learn how to cope with your loss.
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