How Does Grief Feel?

I wasn't prepared for the fact that grief is so unpredictable. It wasn't just sadness, and it wasn't linear. Somehow I'd thought that the first days would be the worst and then it would get steadily better - like getting over the flu. That's not how it was.
-Meghan O'Rourke

Whatever you’re feeling, it’s OK.

When we experience profound loss, life goes off the rails, upside down, and turns cartwheels. Emotions are all over the place, you don’t know if you’re up, or down, and you’re exhausted. 

Everyone feels grief differently. Tāne (men) tend to express grief by being physically active, not talking so much about it. Wāhine (women) will share more with others and talk about it. 

Younger tamariki may not understand that the person isn’t coming back. You know that the person is gone and will never return. Maybe you’re experiencing a death for the first time. If you’re going through it again, a new loss can bring back memories.

Whatever the situation, don’t worry about whether you’re dealing with it ‘properly’ or ‘well’. Give yourself full permission to go with whatever is happening because what you feel is important.

Things do get better, given time and space. 


Feeling sad is the most common reaction to loss. Wanting to cry, feeling exhausted and unable to focus go hand in hand with grief.  Sometimes we want to be alone so we can cry. That’s OK. Wanting to talk to someone about it can help too.


The loss may be the result of an accident. Someone else’s actions caused it, or maybe it was a natural occurrence. Whatever the reason, you might feel angry about the unfairness of life and why this has happened. That is understandable.


Maybe you blame yourself for the death of your loved one, or the breakup with your partner. You feel guilty for not spending enough time to be with them, taking better care, or not telling them often enough that you loved them. Try not to dwell on the ‘should have’ and ‘would have’. You did the best you could at the time. Don’t beat yourself up.


After a loss you might feel afraid, anxious, insecure, wondering how you are going to manage without that person in your life.

Common reactions

Shock is the most common immediate reaction after being told about the death of someone close to you. Our minds and bodies are closely connected and the effects of shock can linger for days or weeks. You may feel like this:

  • Sick, nauseous, upset puku and bowels
  • Sweaty, faint
  • Dazed, confused
  • Lost, empty, alone
  • Exhausted

Your behaviour may change. You may react differently to things. None of these reactions is wrong:

  • Crying at the drop of a hat
  • Laughing at what others may see as ‘the wrong thing’ or ‘at an inappropriate time’
  • Disbelief – you simply cannot believe what has happened
  • Feel nothing at all, numb

Grieving is the next part. When the shock wears off, it is grieving time. Everyone does this in their own way and there is no right or wrong way. However it happens for you is perfectly fine. Grieving goes on for a long time. There is no silver bullet or quick-fix to make it go away. You may feel:

  • tired, headachey, generally sick
  • sad, angry, guilty, lonely, disbelieving
  • forgetful, confused, unable to remember anything
  • weepy/tearful.

You may find:

  • you cannot sleep and when you do, you have nightmares
  • you don’t want to eat much, or at all
  • some friends stay away because they don’t know what to say or how to help but others whom you least expect to step up, do
  • people pressure you into feeling strong when you don’t, and expect you to cope when you’re not
  • people want to tell you their own grief stories, how they got through, and expect their strategies will work for you
  • everything you believe in spiritually is challenged, you lose faith. 

You need to look after yourself. Grief impacts our lives with force and it rocks our world. It’s intense. The stress of loss affects you physically and emotionally.

Take care of yourself. We have some helpful ways of coping here.

Sometimes we need extra help to get through. If the pressure builds up and it’s too much, talk to someone you trust.

If talking to friends and whānau isn’t working for you, make an appointment with your GP or see a counsellor.

There is no shame in asking for help. You do not have to cope on your own.

What else can I do?


Visit our ‘Hey Youth’ section

Youthline has a telephone and webchat service

Skylight has a page of online resources you can link to

See our Tips for Mental Fitness