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Grief and loss

Grief is the natural emotional response to the loss of someone close, such as a family member or friend. Grief can also occur after a serious illness, a divorce or other significant losses.

What are grief and loss?

Grief often involves intense sadness, and sometimes feelings of shock, numbness or even denial and anger. For most people, healing occurs with time.

Grief is a process or journey that affects everyone differently. It can be exhausting and emotionally draining, making it hard to do simple things or even leave the house. Some people cope by becoming more active.

Immediately after a death, those left behind often feel shocked, numb and in denial, particularly if the death was unexpected. When they are able to start to understand the reality of death, they can experience intense sadness, emptiness or loneliness, and sometimes anger or guilt.

The feelings can be painful, constant or overwhelming. Grief can come in waves, seeming to fade away for a while and then return again. But over time, the feelings gradually subside.

Grief is expressed differently across different cultures. Some people like to be expressive and public with their emotions, while others like to keep grief private.

There are often thought to be 5 ‘stages of grief’: denial, anger, 'bargaining', depression and acceptance. They come and go, in no particular order, and some people don’t experience them all.

Most people find the grief lessens with time. They may always carry sadness and miss the person who has died, but are able to find meaning and experience pleasure again. Some people even find new wisdom and strength after experiences of loss.

Types of grief and loss

Grief is usually described in relation to the death of a loved one, but other types of major loss can also lead to feelings of grief. The more significant a loss is, the more intense grief may be.

People may feel grief over:

  • the death of a loved one – grief can be particularly severe following the death of an infant or child, or a suicide
  • divorce or separation
  • work changes – unemployment, retirement, retrenchment
  • the diagnosis of a terminal illness
  • the loss of good health due to accident or disability
  • miscarriage or infertility
  • having a child with a disability, a terminal illness, a mental illness or a substance abuse problem
  • moving away or separation from family or friends
  • having an ‘empty nest’ when children leave home.

For more help and information

If you need someone to talk to, or want to find out more, these organisations can help you:

  • Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) - call 13 11 14 or chat online
  • beyondblue (24/7 support and advice) - call 1300 22 4636 or chat online
  • Kids Helpline (ages 5-25) - call 1800 55 1800

Last reviewed: September 2014

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