Grief is defined as intense sorrow, usually caused by someone’s death. It’s a natural reaction to the loss of something or someone we love, or care for dearly. Grief can be completely overwhelming – it’s not something you can control or easily fix. Grief can be caused by any number of significant changes in life; it’s not unusual to grieve over moving home, leaving a job, or breaking up with a partner, but ordinarily when people talk about grief, it’s in relation to the death of a loved one.

A grieving man looks out of a window

The emotional suffering we experience can be complex; it occupies our thoughts and feelings, and our body too; we can observe the physical symptoms of grief. It’s more than an ‘intense sorrow’, as the dictionary defines it, and can affect every aspect of everyday life. You may be surprised by the range of emotions you may feel when you grieve: anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness, numbness. Often these emotions are categorised into the five stages of grief which are:

  1. Denial. This first stage of grief is a rational approach to an overwhelming situation.
  2. Anger. Can be internalised of expressed outwardly.
  3. Bargaining. A response to the helplessness of death.
  4. Depression. This stage of grief can be isolating and can last some time.
  5. Acceptance. The bereaved finds peace.

You don’t have to experience all five stage of grief to recover from losing a loved one, but it can help to know which emotions to recognise in yourself. Feelings can change rapidly, with little warning.

You may find yourself in disbelief at what has happened, be preoccupied with thoughts of that person, blame yourself for what has happened, or feel a strong yearning for that person. You may also have pleasant days, looking through old photo albums and remembering time spent with that person. You don’t need to always be sad. As time passes, your grief should diminish and these emotions should have less of a hold on your day-to-day life.

Grief can manifest in physical symptoms too: a pit in the bottom of the stomach, nausea, tightness in the throat or chest, over-sensitivity to noise, feeling like you are in a dream, breathlessness, panic attacks, muscle weakness and lacking energy. Participating in the rituals of everyday life can feel pointless, and you may feel hesitant to begin planning the funeral. It’s also common to feel suspended in time, whilst other people seem to be moving forward, oblivious. You may cry at random points in the day, or have difficulty sleeping. Absent-mindedness is also typical, as is social withdrawal. If you are experiencing these symptoms and are concerned for your health, it’s worth seeking advice from your GP.

Death can be shocking even if you barely knew the person; everything about death seems so final. If nothing else it’s a reminder that life is fragile, and that we are only here for a limited time. However, when someone you love dies, the pain can feel unbearable. You grieve for the loss of that person from your life. When this happens, the hardest challenge is building a life without that person. Grief is a period of adjustment. As your emotions settle, and you begin to form new routines, it will get easier.

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