Stages of Grieving

Grieving takes place after any sort of loss, but most powerfully after the death of someone we love. It is not just one feeling, but a whole succession of feelings, which take a while to overcome and cannot be hurried.

In the few hours or days following the death of a loved one, most people feel numb, as though they cannot believe their loss has happened, even if it is an expected one. This sense of emotional numbness can be a help in getting through all the important tasks, such as getting in touch with relatives and friends, and organizing the funeral arrangements. For many people, the funeral or memorial service is a time when the reality of the loss sinks in. It may be upsetting to see the body or attend the funeral, but these are ways of saying goodbye to those we love.

Soon this lack of feeling will subside and may be replaced by a sense of agitation or yearning for the deceased. There is a feeling of wanting to find them, however impossible this is. This makes it difficult to relax or concentrate; it may be difficult to sleep properly. People may often feel anger towards doctors and nurses who did not prevent the death, towards friends and relatives who did not do enough, and sometimes towards the deceased for leaving them.

Guilt is another feeling associated with grieving. People find themselves going over all the things they would have liked to have said or done. Death is beyond anyone's control and a grieving person may need to be reminded of this. Guilt may also arise if a sense of relief is felt when someone has passed after a painful or distressing illness. This feeling is natural, understandable and common.

Periods of quiet sadness or depression may develop. These sudden changes of emotion can be confusing to friends or relatives, but are just part of the normal way of passing through different stages of grief. Spasms of grief can occur at any time, sparked off by people, pleases or things that remind them of their loved one. During this time, it may appear to others as though the grieving person is spending a lot of time sitting, doing nothing, when in fact, they are usually thinking about the person they have lost. This is a quiet but essential part of coming to terms with the death. As time passes, the depression lessens and it is possible to think about other things. However, the sense of having lost a part of ourselves never goes away entirely.

The final phase of bereavement is an acceptance and the letting-go of your loss. You are able to facilitate the start of a new chapter in your life. The depression clears completely, sleep improves and energy returns to normal.

Children & Adolescents

Even though children may not understand the meaning of death until they are three or four years old, they feel the loss of close relatives in much the same way as adults. It is clear that, even from infancy, children grieve.

However, children may go through the states of mourning more quickly than adults. Younger children may feel responsible for the death of their loved one, and may need to be reassured. They also may not speak of their grief for fear of adding extra burdens to the adults around them. The bereavement of children and adolescents, and their need for mourning, should not be overlooked when a member of the family has died.


Family and friends can help by spending time with grieving family members. It is not so much words of comfort that are needed, but the willingness to be with them during their time of loss. A sympathetic arm around the shoulders will express care and support when words are not enough.

Mourners should be able to cry with somebody and talk about their feelings without being told to pull themselves together. In time, they will overcome their grief, but first they need to express their feelings. if you do not know what to say, be honest and say so. This will give the mourner a chance to tell you what he or she wants. People often avoid the name of the deceased for fear that it will be upsetting. however, to the bereaved, it may seem as though others have forgotten their loss, adding a sense of isolation to their grief. It must be remembered that festive occasions and anniversaries are particularly difficult times when friends and relatives can make a special effort to be around for support.