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Common Reactions to Grief and Loss

When someone you know dies, it can turn your life upside down.

People grieve in many different ways over the death of someone close to them. There are some common reactions to death and grieving, and below we include some ideas that may assist you if;

  • you’re in shock

  • someone close has died and you’re not sure how to respond

  • life feels like it’s been turned upside down after someone has passed

We All React Differently Dealing with death, particularly the death of someone close or someone you love, is one of the most stressful experiences you can go through. Everyone reacts differently and it’s normal if you feel like you’re riding on a rollercoaster of different emotions. How you react can be affected by many things:

  • The type of relationship you had with the person: The new loss may remind you of earlier losses you’ve had, which you may grieve for again.

  • Your Process: Some people will be more likely to express their grief through physical activity, keeping busy and throwing themselves into tasks or workouts, others will want to share their feelings with others, talk about what’s happening and try to workout their feeling by talking.

  • Your cultural background: Different cultural groups deal with grief in different ways, including how you express your grief through rituals and ceremonies, and different rules around what is considered respectful.

  • Your age: Younger children may not understand that the person isn’t coming back, or why. When you’re older, you understand that the person is gone forever, but you may still find it difficult to take this fact on board.

Common Reactions The most common reaction on hearing of the death of someone close to you is shock. Shock can affect you for a few days or a number of weeks. When you’re experiencing it, you might feel: Sick, Dizzy, Nauseous, Dazed, Numb or even Empty. You can also feel some unexpected emotions as a result of shock. It’s completely normal to react in ways you can’t control, and none of them are wrong. You might:

  • be in complete disbelief about what has happened

  • feel nothing initially (a completely normal reaction), before you eventually start to feel various emotions

  • react strangely – for example, some people laugh.

Grieving When the shock wears off a bit, you’re likely to start grieving. Whatever your experience, don’t stress about how you’re handling it. Everybody grieves in their own way, including:

  • Physically: Headaches, feeling tired, achy muscles and nausea.

  • Emotionally: Sadness, anger, disbelief, despair, guilt and loneliness.

  • Mentally: Forgetfulness, lack of concentration, confusion and poor memory.

  • Behaviourally: Changes to sleeping patterns, dreams or nightmares, or to your appetite. You might or might not want to go out or be around people. You may also experience unusual emotional reactions or feel weepy.

  • Socially: Some friends may avoid you because they don’t know what to say or how to help you. You might also feel pressure to be strong for family or friends, or you may not feel like seeing anyone.

  • Spiritually: Your beliefs may be challenged and you may struggle to have faith in the things that you once believed in.

Look After Yourself You’ve got to take care of yourself when someone has died, as the stress can really affect you physically and emotionally. Take some time out to recover and relax and some of the suggestions below may assist during your grieving process:

Grief time

Allow yourself 15 to 20 minutes each day to grieve. Make sure you’re in a space where you can be alone. Switch off your phone. This time is a safety valve – it’s an opportunity to allow yourself to deal with any feelings you’ve stored up. How you use it is up to you. Think, cry, pray, meditate, write or draw.

Keep a diary

Write down your feelings about your loss, as well as your memories of the person who has passed away. This is a great way to track how your grief is changing as the weeks and months pass, and can help reassure you, during difficult patches, that you’re making progress.

Let yourself cry (if you can)

Tears are often a sign of strength and show that you’re prepared to work through your grief. So, if you feel like crying, don’t hold yourself back. If you want to cry and can’t, though, don’t worry. A lot of people find it hard to cry, and express their grief in other ways.

Talk to someone you trust

Grieving can feel very lonely, and it’s a long process, so find someone you can talk to, such as a friend or family member. A lot of people find it helpful to talk to people who have been through similar experiences. If you think this might work for you, consider joining a support group.

Give it time

It can take a really long time to work through your lowest moments when someone has died, and it’s normal to feel like your life has been turned upside down for a while. It won’t always be this hard. Time will help to heal the emotional pain.

Grief and Loss Support Services

Talking things through with someone can help. Sometimes you might want to talk things through with someone you do not know. There are several telephone helplines available in that can help you find ways to manage feelings of grief and loss.  If you are in an emergency, are in danger or have harmed yourself, call triple zero (000) for emergency services. If you are on a mobile phone, 112 is another emergency number that will connect you directly to emergency services. If you need immediate help, you can access crisis support and counselling services 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week. You can find someone to talk to through one of these helplines:

  • Lifeline – call 13 11 14 for this Australia-wide crisis support and suicide prevention service.

  • beyondblue – call 1300 224 636 for support for issues relating to anxiety and depression.

If you do not need crisis support, then try one of the following services: The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement offers a specialist grief service for people who need help after the death of someone close to them. They can connect you to other bereavement services in NWS, but they do not offer a telephone counselling service. To access this service, call 1300 664 786, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. GriefLine is an Australia-wide grief helpline that offers free telephone, online and face-to-face grief counselling services. Call (03) 9935 7400 or 1300 845 745 to access anonymous and confidential telephone support. 

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