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What does grief feel like?

Grief brings with it so many feelings and emotions – learn more about what grief feels like and the mental and physical impacts it can have on our health.

Grief is our response to loss. If we lose someone we love - a partner, parent, relative, friend or a much-loved pet – we feel grief.

We feel grief when we lose something of ourselves - perhaps our health, a job or something we love to do, or being able to walk, run and move - and we can grieve lost opportunities.

Grieving is a very personal experience. People might say, "I know what you're going through” because they had a similar loss to you, but their experience will never be the same as yours.

Grief doesn't have a timetable. It takes as long as it takes, and it comes and goes. There’s no one-size-fits-all way of dealing with it but there are ways you can look after yourself.

Understanding the emotions and feelings of grief can help.

What does grief feel like?

Whatever you’re feeling, it’s ok. When we experience profound loss, our emotions are all over the place, and we feel absolutely 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 / children may not understand that the person isn’t coming back.

But you know that the person is gone and will never return. Maybe you’re experiencing death for the first time or you’re going through it again - a new loss can bring back painful 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.

Grief feels like… sadness

Feeling sad is the most common reaction to loss. Wanting to cry, feeling exhausted and being 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.

Grief feels like… anger

Your loss might be the result of an accident, someone else’s actions might have caused it, or maybe they simply got ill. Whatever the reason, you might feel angry about the unfairness of life and why this has happened. This is totally understandable and completely normal.

Grief feels like… guilt

Maybe you blame yourself for the death of your loved one. You might feel guilty for not spending enough time to be with them, taking better care of them, 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.

Grief feels like… fear

After a loss you might feel afraid, anxious, insecure, and wonder how you’re going to manage without that person in your life.

Grief feels like… shock

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:

  • Sick, nauseous, upset puku / tummy 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.
  • Feeling nothing at all or numb.

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

  • Tired, headachy, generally sick.
  • Sad, angry, guilty, lonely, disbelieving.
  • Forgetful, confused, unable to remember anything.
  • Weepy / tearful.

You may find:

  • You can’t 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 who 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. Here are some things to try to cope with your grief.

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 doctor or see a therapist.

There’s no shame in getting help: you don’t have to cope on your own.