If you are visiting this section, it is likely that you or someone you know has recently experienced a loss. We understand that this is a difficult time and we hope the information that you find here will help you through this loss.We each grieve in our own individual way. How we handle the loss of a loved one depends on our personal backgrounds and even on how the person died. But here are some common threads that run through all kinds of grief. Understanding these basic elements will help you understand that you are not alone in how you feel and help you to face life without your loved one.
Remember in time, grief will diminish. While they may no longer physically be with you, they live on in your heart and in your memories.
Grief & Bereavement Support
"My brother and his wife lost a teenage son in an auto accident six months ago. Of course this is a terrible loss, but I worry they're not working hard enough to get on with their lives. This was God's will. There's nothing to do about it. The family has been patient and supportive, but now we're beginning to wonder how long this will last and whether we may not have done the right thing with them."
A faulty understanding about bereavement shapes this woman's concern. Like many others, she does not have accurate information about the grieving process. The woman incorrectly assumes that grief is of a short duration and ends within a specific time frame. Whenever there is a loss to death—spouse, parent, child, sibling, grandparent—grievers struggle with a variety of confusing and conflicting emotions. Too often, well-meaning individuals who say and do the wrong things because they are uniformed about the bereavement process complicate their struggle.
Here are 10 of the most common myths and realities about grief. Knowledge of these issues is extremely helpful for both the bereaved and those wishing to help them. The bereaved gain assurance that their responses to a death are quite normal and natural. Simultaneously, family, friends, religious leaders and other caregivers have the correct information about grief, thus enabling them to respond more patiently, compassionately and wisely.
Myth #1. "It has been a year since your spouse died. Don't you think you should be dating by now?"
Reality: It is impossible to simply "replace" a loved one. Susan Arlen, a New Jersey physician, offers this insight: "Human beings are not goldfish. We do not flush them down the toilet and go out and look for replacements. Each relationship is unique, and it takes a very long time to build a relationship of love. It also takes a very long time to say goodbye, and until goodbye has really been said, it is impossible to move on to a new relationship that will be complete and satisfying."
Myth #2. "You look so well!"
Reality: The bereaved do look like the non-bereaved on the outside but inside, they experience a wide range of chaotic emotions - shock, numbness, anger, disbelief, betrayal, rage, regret, remorse, guilt, etc. These feeling are intense and confusing.
One example comes from British author C.S. Lewis who wrote these words shortly after his wife died: "In grief, nothing stays put. One keeps emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I'm on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?"
Thus, grievers feel misunderstood and further isolated when people comment in astonishment, "You look so well!" Helpful responses should simply and quietly acknowledge their pain and suffering through statements such as "This must be very difficult for you," "I am so sorry," "How can I help?" or "What can I do?"
Myth #3. "The best thing we can do (for the griever) is to avoid discussing the loss."
Reality: The bereaved need and want to talk about their loss, including the minutest details connected to it. Grief shared is grief diminished. Each time a griever talks about the loss, a layer of pain is shed.
When Lois Duncan's 18-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, died because of what police called a "random shooting," she and her husband were devastated. Yet, the people most helpful to the Duncans were those who allowed them to talk about Kaitlyn. "The people we found most comforting made no attempt to distract us from our grief," she recalls. "Instead, they encouraged Don and me to describe each excruciating detail of our nightmare experience over and over. That repetition diffused the intensity of our agony and made it possible for us to start healing."
Myth #4. "It has been six (or nine or 12) months now. Don't you think you should be over it?"
Reality: There is no quick fix for the pain of bereavement. Of course, grievers wish they could be over it in six months. Grief is a deep wound and takes a long time to heal, and that time frame differs from person to person according to their unique circumstances.
Glen Davidson, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and thanatology at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, tracked 1,200 mourners. His research shows an average recovery time from 18 to 24 months.
Myth #5. "You need to be more active and get out more!"
Reality: Encouraging the bereaved to maintain their social, civic and religious ties is healthy. Grievers should not withdraw completely and isolate themselves from others. However, it is not helpful to pressure the bereaved into excessive activity. Erroneously, some caregivers try to help the grieving "escape" from their grief through trips or excessive activity.
This was the pressure felt by Phyllis seven months after her husband died. "Several of my sympathetic friends who have not yet experienced grief firsthand suggested that I interrupt my period of mourning by getting out more," she recalls. "They say, solemnly,'What you must do is get out among people, go on a cruise or take a bus trip. Then you won't feel so lonely.' I have a stock answer for their advice: 'I am not lonely for the presence of people, I am lonely for the presence of my husband.' But how can I expect these innocents to understand that I feel as though my body has been torn asunder and that my soul has been mutilated? How could they understand that for the time being, life is simply a matter of survival?"
Myth #6. "Funerals are too expensive and the services are too depressing!"
Reality: Funeral costs vary and can be managed by the family according to their preferences. More importantly, the funeral visitation, service and ritual create a powerful therapeutic experience for the bereaved.
In her book, What To Do When A Loved One Dies, author Eva Shaw writes: "A service, funeral or memorial provides mourners with a place to express the feelings and emotions of grief. The service is a time to express those feelings, talk about the loved one and begin the acceptance of death. The funeral brings together a community of mourners who can support each other through this difficult time. Many grief experts and those who counsel the grieving believe that a funeral is a necessary part of the healing process and those who do not have this opportunity may not face the death."
Reality: The Bible makes this important distinction: life provides minimal support but God provides maximum love and comfort. Calling a tragic loss the "will of God" can have a devastating impact on the faith of others.Consider Dorothy's experience:
"I was nine years old when my mother died and I was very, very sad. I did not join in the saying of prayers at my parochial school. Noticing that I was not participating in the exercise, the teacher called me aside and asked what was wrong. I told her my mother died and I missed her, to which she replied,'It was the will of God. God needs your mother in heaven.' But I felt I needed my mother far more than God needed her. I was angry at God for years because I felt he took her from me."
When statements of faith are to be made, they should focus upon God's love and support through grief. Rather than telling people, "It was the will of God," a better response is to gently suggest, "God is with you in your pain," "God will help you day to day," or "God will guide you through this difficult time." Rather than talking about God "taking" a loved one, it is more theologically accurate to place the focus upon God "receiving and welcoming" a loved one.
Myth #8. "You are young, and you can get married again," or "Your loved one is no longer in pain now. Be thankful for that."
Reality: The myth is in believing such statements help the bereaved. The truth is that cliches are seldom useful for the grieving and usually create more frustration for them. Avoid making any statements that minimize the loss such as, "He's in a better place now," "You can have other children," or "You'll find someone else to share your life with." It is more therapeutic to simply listen compassionately, say little and do whatever you can to help ease burdens.
Myth #9. "She cries a lot. I'm concerned she is going to have a nervous breakdown."
Reality: Tears are nature's safety valves. Crying washes away toxins from the body that are produced during trauma. That may be the reason so many people feel better after a good cry.
"Crying discharges tension, the accumulation of feeling associated with whatever problem is causing the crying," says Frederic Flach, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College in New York City. "Stress causes imbalance and crying restores balance. It relieves the central nervous system of tension. If we don't cry, that tension doesn't go away." Caregivers should get comfortable at seeing tears from the bereaved and supporting their crying.
Myth #10. "Grief support groups are too depressing and not helpful."
Reality: Groups formed specifically to provide support for grievers are extremely helpful for the bereaved. Most who attend describe the meetings as anything but depressing. There, grievers receive encouragement, sympathy, practical advice and emotional support from people who have "been there." Also, those early in the grieving process see and hear from others who are further along and adjusting in healthy ways to the loss. Such individuals become strong role models for the recently bereaved.
Experiencing the death of the loved one is painful enough on its own. But having to explain to a child that Daddy or Grandma won’t be here to do fun things with anymore makes the experience all the more difficult. As a parent or significant adult in a child’s life, they will look to you for support, answers and advice while they work their way through their grief and develop an understanding of death. The following information is a guide to help you discuss death with a child.
Explaining Death to a Child
Now that you understand how children grieve, what can you do as a mom, uncle, grandpa or close family friend to help them get through this? The following is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you when talking to children about death compiled by NFDA grief educator and minister Victor M. Parachin.
DO be honest about death - As hard as it may be to break the news to a child, honesty is the best policy. It is far worse for a child to accidentally discover the “secret” and then be told “We thought it was best not to tell you.”
DON’T use euphemisms - Explaining death to a child as “Uncle Johnny went on a long trip” or “Grandma Betty is sleeping” may instill fear in the child of going on a trip or to sleep.
It is better to explain in simple phrases like “dead means a person’s body has stopped working and won’t work any more.”
DO help children express their feelings - Encourage children to cry-out their grief and talk out their thoughts and feelings about death.
DO be a good listener - Like adults, children need to talk about the loss and their feelings connected to it.
DON’T tell a child how to feel - Let a child experience and express grief in their own way.
DO offer continuous love and assurance - Children need to know they are loved to feel secure. By being present and available during the difficult mourning process, parents can help their children bear the pain.
DON’T hide your grief from children - Seeing you grieve will let children know that it is normal and healthy to cry and feel sad after death.
DO invite others to help your children - Often, someone outside the family can provide much needed additional comfort, concern and care.
DON’T assume children will just “get over it.” - Whether you are dealing with a young child or adolescent, be proactive and provide all of the comfort and consolation you can.
DO nurture faith but DON’T blame your personal religious god - Often a death will draw religious questions from a child. Explaining to a child that “God needed daddy,” or “It was Allah’s will,” can create future spiritual problems. Instead, remind your child that “He shares our pain and will help us get through the crisis.”
Commonly Asked Questions about Children & Grief
How do children grieve?
Like adults, each child’s reaction to death will be unique and may be experienced on many different levels.
- Acting-out behaviour
- Tiredness, lack of energy
- Changes in grades
- Sleep disturbance
- Increased “accidents”
- Headaches, stomach aches or skin rashes
- Difficulty with concentrating or focusing
- Regressive behaviour, such as thumb sucking, bed wetting or clinging.
Unlike adults, children have a difficult time sustaining strong feelings. Therefore, mood swings and outbursts of emotion are common.
Should children attend funerals?
Yes. Attending the funeral allows the child to be a part of the family at a time when they need love and attention the most. If the child is leery of the funeral, perhaps you can arrange a private moment before or after the service for the child to say goodbye. Or ask your funeral director if their facility has a playroom where that child could stay until the service is complete.
The important thing is that the child is with friends and family and not isolated from the situation.
Do children need an advance explanation of what to expect at a funeral?
Learning what to expect at the funeral is very reassuring for children. Be honest and clear when explaining the details.
Remember, children take things very literally so try not to use euphemisms in your explanations. For young children, simple statements are sufficient. For example, explanations like a funeral is a way to say “goodbye” or a casket is a nice box that holds the body, will help them understand.
How can we protect children from the loss?
It is impossible to protect children from the pain of losing someone they loved. Trying to hide the death from them will only delay their inevitable realisation that the person is no longer a part of the child’s life. It is better to include children in the mourning experience and teach them a healthy way to deal with their feelings.
Should children see their parents and/or family grieving?
Yes. Children learn how to express their own feelings by example. If a child is able to witness important adults in their life openly grieving, then they too will be able to express their feelings of loss. Sharing how they feel is often an essential part of the healing process.
How can adults help a grieving child?
Adults need to provide a supportive, caring environment in which children are allowed to openly express their feelings. This includes hugging the child, listening to them talk about their feelings, letting them know it’s ok to cry, and that they will not feel such deep sadness forever.
Some children may want to be more creative in how they express their emotions. Writing a letter to the deceased, drawing a picture, or composing a song are all excellent ways to release grief and pain. These projects also can be included in the ceremony, giving the child a meaningful way to say goodbye.
Can loss permanently scar a child?
Often children are more resilient then we think they will be. With support, love and comfort from you and the other important adults in their lives, children adjust and learn to live with loss.
Five Simple Ways to - Help a Grieving Child
- Be there for the child. Listen when they need to talk, and hug them when they need comfort.
- Encourage the child to draw a picture or write a letter to their loved one. These items could be placed in the casket or displayed during the cremation.
- Share fond memories about the loved one with the child, and encourage them to share their own memories.
- Frame a picture of the loved one for the child or give the child another memento to remember their loved one by. (i.e. coins that were in their pocket, a favorite pin, etc.).
- Involve the child in the funeral. Let them read a poem or letter they have written, sing or play a song during the service, or even just attend the funeral with family and friends.
For further help and advice, please visit our 'Further Resources' page.
On your wedding day, you and your spouse made official the bond between you and began a new life as one. Whether you were together for 5 years or 50 years, loosing your partner can be like losing a part of yourself.
If you have experienced the death of a loved one prior to loosing your spouse, you are probably surprised or frightened by the intensity of your grief. Emotional responses like sorrow, anger and loneliness can feel overwhelming without your partner there to comfort you. You may find that you think about your spouse constantly, recreate the circumstances of their death over and over in your mind, or have dreams or nightmares.
As the reality of your partner’s death sinks in, you may find yourself trying to reinvent yourself and their life. Perhaps you have young children at home and now must handle raising them on your own. Or maybe the death of your spouse has left you in a tight spot financially.
Even relationships with mutual friends may change. If you were used to socialising with friends as a couple, those same friends may have a difficult time interacting with you as an individual.
Underlining all of the other changes is the need to accept being without your primary partner in life. You had grown accustom to living a certain lifestyle and spending your life together. Now your closest companion is gone, and you are left to rediscover your own life.
In time you will adjust to your new life and your grief will diminish. This does not mean you will forget your spouse. Even as you accept the death and begin your new life, you will keep in your heart the love and memories you shared during your time together.
No matter what age you are—young or old, single or with a family of your own—you will still be deeply affected by the death of your mother or father. When your mum or dad dies, it may be one of the most emotional losses you’ll experience in life. It is only natural to feel consumed by a combination of pain, fear and deep sadness at the loss of such a significant influence in your life.
The specifics of how you grieve will depend on a number of personal factors, including your relationship with your parent, age, gender, religious beliefs, previous experience with death, and whether or not you believe it was time for your parent to die. But there are some common reactions that people often experience after the loss of a parent.
When you lose a parent, you also lose a life long friend, counselor and advisor. Therefore, you may suddenly feel very much alone, even if you have the support of other family and friends. Even the loss of your parent’s home as a natural place for family gatherings can add to the grief you experience.
After the initial shock fades, you will experience what is called secondary loss. This is when you may begin to think of all the upcoming experiences that your parent will not be there to share in. Things like career accomplishments, watching your own children grow, and other milestones. If you are older, the death of a parent may even bring up issues of your own mortality.
Allowing yourself to grieve for the loss of your parent will help you to say goodbye and loosen the emotion bonds to a loved one who has been a special part of your life.
1. 'Grief is… like an earthquake
Grief is like an earthquake. The first one hits you and the world falls apart. Even after you put the world together again there are aftershocks, and you never really know when those will come.
There is no single definition of grief. It feels different to each person who experiences it. It changes from day to day, month to month, and year to year. Sadness, anger, loneliness, numbness, fear, confusion, and even relief are just a few of the components of grief.
There just isn’t a magic “right” way to grieve. Grief doesn’t have an expiration date (although many people who have never had a loss may think there is one). Grief also looks different depending on how new or recent your loss
What does your grief look like? What did it look like in the beginning? Has it changed?
For me, in the beginning, I remember feeling numb and functioning like a robot – going through the motions but not really feeling anything. It was like a bad dream that I wanted to wake up from but couldn’t.
- Emily was 13 when her father died. Two years later, this is how she describes grief:
Grief is like the rain. Sometimes it only drizzles, but other times it pours so much you feel like you’re going to drown in it.- Cassie’s father died when she was 15. In the two years since his death, taking time to remember her dad during the “roller coaster” of grief has helped Cassie ride out the low times:
Grief to me is like a never-ending roller coaster. Imagine a roller coaster that is just a series of hills, up and down, up and down. Sometimes I’m on the top of the hill: being up there can last for days, sometimes weeks. But then something little – a memory, a song, a picture – will trigger emotions that send you flying back down the hill. And then the only think you can do is brace yourself, hold on tight, and go flying down the tracks. Once you hit the bottom, it’s uphill from there.- Elizabeth, who was 12 when her father died, has another great way to explain how grief changes over time:
It’s like a cut. At first it hurts so bad, and you bleed for a while. You stop the bleeding, the pain subsides, and you put on a bandage to hide the mark and help it heal faster. You develop a scab, but every once in a while, that scab might break and you’ll bleed again. Once that stops and the pain is gone, you still have a scar. That scar becomes a part of you, and it’s something people will know about. It will stay with you for the rest of your life, as will grief.- Sixteen-year-old Ella, who lost her father in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, sums up the roller-coaster ride of grief’s different stages with honest and reassuring words:
Grief is a process. You go through stages of grief, and everyone’s grief is different in both its form and its order. Some people will be angry, then sad, then very depressed, then suddenly be fine. I was scared, then a little bit angry, sad, depressed, okay, depressed, okay, angry, sad, etc. It’s a cycle, or a wave. It continues on and on, but it changes periodically. I don’t think it ends, but it stops being so prominent in your life.Now I ask, how would you finish the sentence: Grief is… ?'
(The above article is taken from a passage in the book 'You Are Not Alone' by Lynne B. Hughes.)
2. 'Grief FAQ's
- Grief is a normal response to loss;
- There is no "right" way to grieve;
- There is no set time for grief to "be over";
- There are many expected and unexpected feelings that come with grief;
- When you are still, like at night or in class, you may have a flood of feelings;
- It may be difficult to concentrate or remember;
- You may feel "different" because of the loss;
- Over 5.4 million children and teens in the US have at least one parent who died;
- Many others have siblings who die;
- Even more have friends, grandparents, cousins and other relatives who die;
YOU ARE NOT ALONE, but grief can make you feel very alone.
Some Normal Feelings and Thoughts
Numbness (no feelings); Shock; Deep sadness; Anger; Relief; Detachment (indifference); Fear that others may die; Belief that you will die soon; Nervousness or anxiety; Worry; Appetite changes; Stomach aches and headaches (get checked out by a doctor, just to be sure you are healthy and it is grief that is causing this); Wishing to be with your loved one...this is different than wanting to commit suicide; "If only I had _______", my loved one would be alive; Don't want to show true feelings in public
*Lower Grades: You may have changes in grades following a death. School may not seem as important as the loss. Grieving also takes a LOT of mental and emotional energy! It may be difficult to focus on studies and remember. Adults have the same problem when a special person dies. It may take months for concentration and memory to come back. Let the school counsellor or teacher know that you are having a problem. Refer them to this website to help them understand. There is nothing wrong with you. Your thinking will clear after a time. Take care of yourself by getting enough rest, eating well and taking care of your feelings. Do the best you can. Accept yourself!
*Higher Grades: Some students do better in school after a loved one dies. Sometimes it is because a stressful situation is over. Sometimes it may be to send a deceased loved one a message. Be sure to take care of yourself during this time by getting enough rest, eating well and taking care of your feelings.
Trauma happens when someone is involved in a violent or life-threatening event. It also happens sometimes when those we care about are involved in a violent event that ends in death or serious injury.
Common Feelings after Trauma
Shock; Numbness (no feeling); Can't believe it happened (denial); Anger; Scared; Guilty; Nervous; Nightmares; Difficulty concentrating; Won't go near reminders of what happened; Need to sleep with light on or sound in room; Jumpy; Physical sensations such as sweating, nausea, racing heart, tightness in chest, vomiting, no energy, stomach aches, headaches, bed-wetting'.
3. Taking the lead from bereaved children and teens, find below some music and tips that helped them during their grieving process.
Top Ten Songs
1. Feel – Robbie Williams
2. Yesterday – Paul McCartney
3. You have been loved – George Michael
4. Move On – George Michael
5. In the Living Years - Mike Rutherford
6. Dance with my Father – Luther Vandross
7. Wind beneath my wings – Bette Midler
8. Nothing Compares to You – Sinead O’Connor
9. Hurt – Christina Aguilera
10. Fix You - Coldplay
Tips from Bereaved Children
- Write something difficult on paper then screw it up and throw it away.
- Write a diary about how you feel, make up poems, music and songs.
- Talk to other people who understand how you feel, and to those who knew the person (someone in your family or close friends).
- Put things or feelings away safely sometimes, so you can take them out another time.
- It’s OK to feel sad, angry and scared and to cry, and it is also OK to feel happy and to enjoy things.
- Visiting the grave may make you feel closer to the person you have lost.
- In your mind or out loud, talk to the person who has died.
- It is OK not to have the person in your mind all the time.
- Thinking about happy and special times spent with that person and feeling glad that you did have them in your life.
- Having a hug.
- Taking a deep breath.
(The above article is taken from 'http://www.griefencounter.org.uk/kids-zone/kids-resources/')