Understanding Grief and Loss
Grief is the natural response to the loss of a family member or friend. It indicates the significant place they held, and still hold, in your heart and life.
When you haven’t experienced grief previously, you may feel unprepared for a range of emotions you may feel. Common responses to grief include shock and disbelief, sadness, guilt, anger, fear, loneliness, numbness and physical symptoms like nausea, fatigue, weight gain, or difficulties sleeping.
Grief is not a static process, it is active, and please feel reassured there is no “right” way to grieve. It is an intensely individual process because the relationship between you and the person was unique to you both. It is sometimes helpful to understand grief as not something that happens to you, but rather it is something that you will do and so you have many choices about how you would like to proceed.
There is often an increased level of support in the days and weeks after a death. This can sometimes slow over time. There are options you may wish to consider in caring for yourself in the coming months. Please find below some helpful tips for coping:
Allow yourself to express emotions
- Identify someone you feel able to talk openly with and who is a good listener.
- Allow yourself to express emotions, it is okay to cry.
- Journaling or writing down feelings.
- Creative expression, writing letter or poem, painting or drawing.
- For stronger emotions like anger or resentment, try directing energy into physical activity like walking or running.
Looking after your wellbeing
- It is important to make sure you have meals and water, sometimes you may not feel hungry but keeping to a meal routine is important to nourish yourself.
- Maintaining gentle activity for example walking, yoga, tai chi, swimming.
- Spending time in nature including beach, river or bushland.
- Doing any activity that brings you a sense of satisfaction.
- You may find social situations more challenging and feel that you need more time for yourself.
Legacy and remembering
- It is okay to have memories around you and your home. This may include photos, playing music that reminds you of the person or keeping to the routine you shared, such as having tea in the sun. You may wish to invite others to share these moments with you.
- Sharing memories and stories with friends and family, thoughts and feelings can be comforting and strengthen feelings of connection.
- Draw on religious or spiritual beliefs.
- Use cultural or religious practices that are meaningful for you personally.
At times you may not feel able to do any of these things, and that is okay too. When you are grieving self-compassion and being gentle with yourself can be important.
Early in the grieving process can be a time when you may feel more vulnerable than usual. During this time it is recommended to avoid major life decisions if possible. This could include decisions like selling a home. If you do need to make bigger decisions, asking for the support and assistance of people you trust can be a good idea.
Many people find cultural or religious practices can help in their grieving process. Different cultures mourn or express their grief in diverse ways. Grief is also very personal and so you may find connecting with these practices can be helpful, or you might have a unique practice that fits better for you.
Seeking Support, Supporting Others
When to seek further support
Grief is different for everyone. Sometimes you may benefit from professional support, for example if:
- over time, you remain preoccupied and acutely distressed or distracted by your grief
- you experience panic attacks or other serious anxiety or depression
- you are experiencing thoughts of hopelessness
- if you are using different methods for coping for example increased or changed eating patterns, using alcohol or other drugs more than usual to lessen the pain
- you are finding yourself unable to do tasks in your daily life, or finding you are no longer enjoying activities you used to
- you have sleep issues
- you need someone to talk to
Just like adults, every child or young person’s experience of grief is unique. Children’s reactions to death can vary depending on their age, stage of development, relationship with the person who has died and any previous experiences of grief.
When telling a child about a death it is suggested to use words that are clear and direct. For example "I have some sad news to tell you. Nanna died today."
It is helpful to answer children’s questions about death simply and honestly. If there are questions you can’t answer, it’s ok to say “I don’t know”. Being as honest as possible and clear with children is important. Explanations such as saying the person “went to sleep” or “has gone to heaven” may be confusing or at times upsetting.
Young children may act out, become more anxious or show behavioural regression following the death of someone close to them. Some suggestions of what can help:
|Listen and comfort||Every child reacts in their own way when they learn that someone has died. Some children cry. Some ask questions. Others seem not to react at all. That's ok. Stay with your child to offer hugs or comfort. Answer your child's questions. Or just be together for a few minutes. It's ok if your child sees your sadness or tears.|
|Put feelings into words||Ask children to say what they're thinking and feeling. Label some of your own feelings. This makes it easier for children to share theirs. You can say things like, "I know you're feeling very sad. I'm sad, too. We both loved Nanna so much, and she loved us too." It can help to allow children to see you express your own feelings of grief so that they know it is ok for them to express themselves as well.|
|Tell your child what to expect||If the death of a person means changes in your child's life or routine, explain what will happen. This helps your child feel prepared. For example, "Aunt Elizabeth will pick you up from school like Nanna used to." Or "I need to stay with Grandpa for a few days. That means you and Dad will be home taking care of each other. But I'll talk to you every day, and I'll be back on Sunday."|
|Explain events that will happen||It can help to allow children to join in rituals like viewings, funerals, or memorial services. Tell them ahead of time what will happen. For example, "Lots of people who loved Nanna will be there. We will sing, pray, and talk about Nanna's life. People might cry and hug. You can stay near me and hold my hand if you want." It can also help to ask the child if they would like a role at the funeral. Having a small, active role can help children feel part of things and helps them cope. They might like to read a poem, pick a song to be played, gather some photos to display, or make something. They may like to place an object or flower on the coffin. Let children decide if they want to take part, and how.|
|Help your child remember the person||In the days and weeks ahead, encourage your child to draw pictures or write down stories of the person who has died. Don't avoid talking about the person who died. Sharing happy memories can help with grief.|
For more information about grief with children, visit the Raising Children the Australian Parenting website.
|Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement||
Provides grief support, counselling and training.
Phone: 1800 642 066
Free, confidential support for people who are experiencing grief.
Phone: 02 9767 5656
|Beyond Blue Helpline||
Mental health information, support, and hope.
Phone: 1300 224 636
|Cancer Council NSW||
Resources and support services to help guide you with what to do after death.
Phone: 13 11 20
|Cancer Council NSW – How children understand death||Guidance about possible reactions children may have based on their age, and suggested approaches for support.|
|Centrelink Bereavement Line||
Information about the Bereavement Payment and the Bereavement Allowance.
Phone: 132 300
|Centrelink Multilingual Call Centre||
Supporting culturally and linguistically diverse communities with Centrelink payments and services.
Phone: 131 202
Information about grief and supporting children and adolescents in different age groups.
Phone: 1800 642 066
Free phone support, bereavement support groups and forums, grief resources and information, as well as education and training programs.
Phone: 1300 845 745
Free confidential 24/7 online and phone counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.
Phone: 1800 551 800
|Lifeline (24/7 Counselling)||
24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.
Phone: 131 114
|National Association for Loss and Grief NSW||
Provides grief support, training and education.
Phone: 02 9489 6644
|National Centre for Childhood Grief||
An Australian not-for-profit organisation dedicated to caring for bereaved children and their families following the death of a parent, sibling or other close loved one.
Phone: 1300 654 556
|NSW Trustee and Guardian||
Will-making, trustee, financial management and guardianship services.
Phone: 1300 364 103
Social workers help people in times of need and crisis by providing practical support, counselling, information and emotional support.
Support for those grieving over the death of their partner.
Phone: 02 9519 2820
Assisting people and communities bereaved or impacted by suicide.
Phone: 1300 727 247
Transcultural Mental Health Line
Supporting people who live in NSW and who are from culturally and linguistically diverse communities – providing advice on how to improve your wellbeing and mental health; help you access mental health services in your community and; support for you to care for someone with a mental health concern.
Phone: 1800 648 911
Further support can also be accessed through health care professionals that you are known to including Social Workers, Psychologists and your GP.