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A Guide To Grief


Losing a loved one can be an extremely difficult time. We all go through a grieving process and are all affected by grief in different ways. It is important to remember that there are no right or wrong ways to grieve. It is said that those who are grieving should try and realise that it is a natural thing and something that cannot be controlled.

What is grief?

Grief is a natural reaction to loss. In this guide, the grief we are talking about is that which follows a bereavement, but a person can also experience grief from a number of things:

  • The death of a loved one
  • The death/loss of a pet
  • The loss of a job
  • A miscarriage
  • The loss of health (a terminal diagnosis)
  • The loss of health of a loved one
  • Life changes (for example, divorce, end of a relationship, retirement, moving house)

Usually, the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief can be.

Bereavement, Mourning and Grief

Bereavement, mourning and grief are often used in place of each other, but they actually all have different meanings. It can be confusing to understand the differences between the three, so here is a brief definition of each one:

Bereavement – This refers to the period of time following a death that one experiences grief and mourning.

Mourning – The actions you take following a loss, and the expression of loss and grief. This can include rituals that are specific to a culture or religion.

Grief – The natural reaction to loss.

As bereavement is defined as a time period, it is important to realise that there is no set limit. For some people it could be much longer than for others. There are also ‘stages of bereavement’, which are often used by psychiatrists and counsellors who are supporting people going through a bereavement. Most people go through all of the stages, but sometimes, people can get stuck in a stage and have difficulty moving on. The stages are:

  1. Accepting your loss is real
  2. Experienced grief
  3. Adjusting to life without the deceased
  4. Putting less emotional energy into grieving and putting it into something new (moving on)

The Grieving Process

The second stage of the bereavement process is experiencing grief. This can also be called the grieving process. Like the bereavement process, it has no time frame. We are all different and therefore all grieve differently. It is important for those who have suffered a loss to go through the grieving process and be allowed to express their grief, as doing so will help them cope with their loss.

There are factors which can affect how we grieve and other aspects of the process. Some examples are:

  • The kind of relationship you had with the person who passed away
  • The circumstances of their death (for example; terminal illness, suicide, road accident)
  • Your own life experiences

Again, like the bereavement process, there are stages of the grieving process. These are called ‘the 5 stages of grief’ and were introduced by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. It was her studies regarding feelings of people facing terminal illness that led her to the stages, however many people generalised them for grief in general. This still stands today. Before she died, Kulber-Ross said about grief, “there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss”.

The five stages of grief

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Symptoms of grief

  • Shock and disbelief – this can be finding the death hard to accept and feeling numb.
  • Sadness – having feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning and loneliness and also involves crying.
  • Guilt – this can include regretting things that you did not get to say or do, or wishing you had not done or said certain things. It could also be feeling guilty about certain feelings (for example; feeling relieved when someone dies after a long, painful battle with an illness), or feeling guilty for not doing anything to prevent the death.
  • Anger – even if nobody was responsible for the death, you may experience anger and resentment. This could be towards yourself, doctors, the person who died, God or any other friends or family.
  • Fear – losing a loved one can trigger feelings of fear and one may begin excessively worrying. Feelings often include anxiety, insecurity and can sometimes include physical signs such as panic attacks.
  • Other physical symptoms – grief is not only an emotional process, it can be a physical one too. Symptoms can be fatigue, nausea, weight loss/gain, aches, pains and insomnia.

Tips for coping with grief

The most important factor in coping with grief is to have support. This could be from friends, family members or even doctors and counsellors. Wherever the support comes from, even though it may seem hard, it is always best to accept it. Other ways that someone going through a bereavement could get support are by going to support groups or by drawing comfort from faith and religion.

Another important factor is to look after yourself, both physically and mentally, however hard this may seem. This can be done by looking after your physical health (trying to get enough sleep, eating properly and exercising), expressing your feelings in a creative way (writing a diary, writing poems or writing letters to the deceased – or even making scrapbooks) and by facing your feelings instead of ignoring them.

Useful numbers and information

Remember, grief is a completely natural thing and there is no right or wrong way to do it. If you feel you are unable to cope with your grief, you can get help in a number of ways.

Your GP can provide you with a list of counselling services available to you, and can also refer you to them.

Many hospices offer bereavement and grief counselling. Help the Hospices is a charity that supports hospice care across the country. Call the Help the Hospices hospice information service on 020 7520 8222, or use the directory of end of life care services to find a hospice or palliative care provider near you.

You can also search for counselling services near you on websites such as or