Grief & Loss

When Someone You Love Dies
Grief is painful and at times seems bottomless. The purpose of the information here is to help you identify some of the elements of grieving that are commonly experienced by people who are bereaved. The aim is to assist those grieving to feel less isolated in their feelings and provide some ideas on coping. These intense emotions and mood changes are a normal part of grieving.

Grief is a reaction to death and other major losses.  Grieving is a very personal experience and there isn’t a right or wrong way. It is determined by culture, the relationship to the person who died and the way they died as well as the individual personality of the grieving person. Working through grief is a very personal and usually painful experience. Some stages of grief are commonly experienced although not everyone will go through all these stages. Grieving is a fluid process and you may experience many different emotions in one day


Stages of Grief

The following ‘stages’ have been identified as experiences that many people who are grieving go through.  It is important to note that these stages vary widely between individuals and do not always occur in any particular order.

1. Numbness/Denial

Feeling emotionally numb can be the first reaction to a death. In the denial stage you may refuse to believe what has happened. This could mean laying clothes out for the dead child or expecting the person to walk through the door.  More commonly, people deny the impact the death has had on them and try to continue as normal.

2. Anger/guilt

Anger with ourselves or blaming others for the death is not uncommon, particularly when the death was sudden or unexpected.  It seems we need to try to make sense of the death and the accompanying pain in some way and look for someone to take responsibility.  Other strong emotions and a longing for the person who has died can accompany anger. You may also feel agitated, irritable or angry, find it difficult to concentrate, relax or sleep. 

3. Bargaining

Many imagine the ‘what ifs’.  They may dwell on arguments they had with the dead person or things that they ‘should’ have done differently.   Intellectually, you understand that the person has died but it takes much longer for you to really accept this emotionally.

4. Sadness

Extreme sadness is a likely outcome for all those whose loved one has died. During this time many withdraw from family and friends, feel listless and tired, become withdrawn or are prone to sudden bouts of tears. Many feel like their life has lost its purpose and experience feelings of guilt.

5. Acceptance

Pain, sadness and depression start to lessen; things are seen in a more positive light, although you may never overcome fully the feeling of loss.  There is a greater acceptance that life has to go on. After a while your sadness will clear and your energy levels and sleeping patterns will return to normal.  You will be able to think of the dead person without the accompanying feelings of deep sadness and focus more on the positive memories, whilst re-investing energy and emotion into other relationships.


How Can You Cope During The Grieving Process?

  • ask for help, understanding and support from family, friends or a support group
  • tell people what helps and what doesn’t help
  • accept that some things are beyond your control and focus on the things you can influence
  • avoid making major decisions
  • if you’re religious talk to the appointed person in your religion
  • take care of your health - try to eat and get some rest
  • be patient with yourself
  • gentle exercise may help
  • express your emotions


How Can You Help a Family Member or Friend that is Grieving?

At some time in our lives we will all grieve and must find a way to cope with it. It is a helpful part of the process to have people around to comfort and help. If you are like most people you will find yourself wondering what to say, what does the bereaved need from those around them? What are the best things you can do? What are the worst?

This information sheet aims to outline some ideas that may assist you in feeling confident in the comfort and support you offer to those who have lost a loved one.


How Does Grief Affect A Person?

People deal with grief in extremely diverse ways and often this can make the person offering support uncomfortable. Despite individual uniqueness, usually an overall pattern does occur, understanding this may help you to show compassion during the different stages of grieving.

Grief often begins with shock and numbness and possibly denial of the impact of the death. This is usually followed by a time when the pain sets in. Strong emotions may overwhelm the person. Commonly during the sadness following bereavement, the person may have no energy and feel listless. They may withdraw or have mood fluctuations, and this can be the hardest and longest period of the grieving process. Finally, there is acceptance. The feelings of depression and rage are less intense. The losses and scars are accepted – although this is not necessarily a happy acceptance. Energy and hope begin to return.

The entire process is different for everyone but it is never orderly, emotions will pop up and the time periods will flow into each other.  Grief may increase around the times of anniversaries, birthdays, family get-togethers and Christmas – times when the person’s absence is all the more obvious.  It is impossible to say how long the grieving process lasts, as this varies greatly depending on the relationship and nature of the death.


Ways to Help

Things that are usually helpful:

Allow Grief

It can be difficult to watch somebody go through the grieving process but it isn't beneficial to give the person a message that says 'chin up'. It is important that the person does grieve. According to research unresolved grief can lead to outbursts of anger and rage, restlessness, depression, addiction, compulsion, anxiety and panic disorders. Physical symptoms can include worsening or developing diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, asthma, allergies, constipation, diarrhoea and ulcers.  Don’t allow your discomfort with the person’s grief stop them from expressing it.

Be Supportive

Many people hold back as they are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Rest assured that the person grieving doesn’t expect you to know what to say. It is generally felt that the important first step is to acknowledge the person's loss; if you don't have the words a hug can speak volumes. Accept the person's grief and offer your supportive presence even if this makes you uncomfortable.  Don’t be afraid to talk about the dead person and share your memories of them, if you knew them.

Make allowances

Some grieving people may exhibit some (temporarily) unusual conduct that affects relationships and everyday activities:

  • isolating themselves or on the other hand, not wanting to be alone
  • resentment that others aren't grieving
  • critical or irritable in ways that are out of character
  • odd events, which seem real, like sensing the presence of a loved one.

If the person concerned is worried it may help to know that these things, plus numerous others, are a lot more common than they may think.  For example, it is common to ‘hear’ the voice of the deceased person or to ‘see’ or ‘feel’ their presence.  If you are concerned about how the person is grieving, it is a good idea to speak to a GP or grief counsellor.


Things that are usually not helpful:

  • avoiding the person
  • saying things like "It's God's will", "It's all for the best", or if a baby has died, "You have other children" or "You can always have another baby".  Comments like this are not helpful or comforting and discourage the grieving person from expressing their feelings.
  • forgetting them after the funeral, this is often the time when many supports start to drift away and the real sadness begins to set in.  It is at this time that your ongoing support will be most appreciated.
  • expecting them ‘to get over it’; some losses we learn to live with, not get over.


Unhealthy Signs of Grief

Bereaved people often show symptoms similar to those of depression. However, only a minority become clinically depressed and unable to function.  Intense and prolonged feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are a sign of depression. If you think you may be depressed it is important to seek help from your doctor or a professional counsellor.  If you are having thoughts of suicide, it is essential to get help from your doctor, mental health community team or a counsellor.

Further Reading

The Centre for Grief Education in Melbourne has a wide variety of books on all aspects of grief and bereavement and can sell books by mail.  They can be contacted on 1800 642 066 or at

Coping with Grief by Mal McKissock and Dianne McKissock, ABC Books & Audio. 2001

35 Ways to Help a Grieving Child, The Dougy Centre for Grieving Children, 1999, ISBN189053403X

Where to Go For Help

Contact Us

Mental Health Information Service, Tel 1300 974 991 for services in your area.

National Association of Grief and Loss (NALAG)

Tel (02) 9976 2803 website:

Sudden Infant Death Association (SIDA)

Tel (02) 9681 4500. For Twenty-four hour support line phone: 1800 651 186. Support for anyone affected by the sudden death of a child 0-6 years old.

Grief Support Inc

Tel (02) 9489 6644- twenty-four hour telephone and referral support service

Club Speranza

Tel (02) 9908 1233 website: education, training, counselling, resources and support groups for people affected by suicide or self-harm.

Solace Association Inc

tel (02) 9817 4976. A support group and counselling service staffed by trained volunteers. For people who have lost a partner.


Tel 13 11 14- twenty-four hour emotional support and listening

Compassionate Friends

Tel (02) 9290 2355 Self-help for bereaved parents.


Mental Health Association of NSW Inc