The Grieving Process

Grief is a response to loss

Coming to terms with the death of someone special to us is never easy; no matter what stage his or her life has reached. A great deal has been written about grief. With continual research, we are learning more about this emotional response to loss. With this knowledge we hope to improve the way we assist those experiencing the grief process. Death affects us in a variety of ways, not just emotionally but physically, intellectually and spiritually also.

Emotional response

Includes anger, sadness, guilt, loneliness, depression, denial and fear. These are normal reactions to the new circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Physical response

Changes may occur as our body tries to come to terms with a loss. Sleep disturbances, dryness of throat, dizziness and headaches are all common symptoms.

Intellectual response

It is common to ask, “Why is this tragedy happening to me?” and to challenge oneself when the answers are not always attainable.

Spiritual response

Sometimes the spiritual aspects of your response to loss have to do with what your faith offers you in a time of crisis.

The Grieving Process

Relating to a grieving person

It is difficult to know what to say to a grieving person, however, don’t think you have to cheer them up or avoid talking about their situation. It’s natural for people who are grieving to feel sad, numb and disconsolate but saying something simple like “I’m so sorry for your loss” can mean so much. They often just need someone to listen and to share their feelings and memories.

Allow the bereaved person to cry and display their feelings

Recall the person who has died. Say their name and talk about the circumstances of their death. This affirms the reality of the loss and is an important part of grieving.

Avoid sayings such as “be strong” or “I know how you feel” as this encourages people to suppress their feelings rather than acknowledge their grief.

Offer practical assistance such as buying groceries, minding children or providing meals not just immediately following the death but in the following weeks and months when the reality of the loss is felt.

Remember special days such as birthdays and anniversaries with a phone call or card. Such times can accentuate the feelings of loss for a loved one.

Death of a child

The death of a child can be particularly difficult.

This unique situation brings with it awkwardness from friends as they realise the vulnerability of their own children. Behavioural changes from siblings who may be confused by the new focus this loss has brought. The injustice a grandparent may feel at the loss of a young life.

Sharing your feelings and encouraging each other to express your emotions is the healthiest way for any family to recover from this tragedy.


  • Each person is unique. So is the way they grieve.
  • Recognise that certain times will be particularly difficult, like birthdays and Christmas.
  • Let them talk and encourage them to express emotions.
  • Allow children to express their grief with adults.
  • Working through grief takes time.
  • Listen and hear what is being said.
  • Don’t feel awkward if your efforts are rejected as this will pass.
  • Encourage those who have common grief to support one another.
  • Allow children to be present and included in the funeral.
  • Grief is a process, not a state, and is a natural response to loss. The degree of grief depends on your relationship with the deceased person.

Many authors have numbered the stages of grief. While the number has varied the pattern is similar. Initially, a physical response is noted. This may include shock or numbness, followed by a desire to ‘turn the clock back’ to regain the loss.

There may then be a time when various feelings such as anger, guilt, depression or isolation are experienced. Finally, we are able to reaffirm ourselves and re-establish a new set of rules and a new lifestyle. All this is done with the support of others.

Unfortunately, the process is unlimited and does not travel in a straight line. Many setbacks can be experienced but usually, with each day of acceptance, life improves and the process continues.

Moving forward takes courage and time, and the support of family and friends.

Education and links for Grief Support

Other Links and Information