Frequently Asked Questions About Grief

How long will this go on?
The journey through grief is a highly individual experience. Rather than focus on a timeline it is perhaps more helpful to focus on its intensity and duration. Initially grief is overwhelming and people can feel out of control. With time people find they have more ability to choose when they access memories and emotions. The intensity of grief is related to the degree of attachment to the person, the type of relationship and other factors such as understanding and social support, personality and specific details of the bereavement.

Am I going mad?
It will certainly feel like it at times! Particularly if the individuals need to grieve is out of step with social and cultural expectations. Grief affects people physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. People may be required to make adjustments to their lives eg, learning new skills, at a time when they feel least able to do so. Validation and permission to grieve are powerful comfort to a bereaved person's experience.

Do I have the right to inflict this on others? What can I expect of them and they of me?
Others will feel intensely uncomfortable with the emotion and the pain of the bereaved to the point of feeling helpless. The anxiety this causes may mean that the bereaved person will be avoided; further increasing the possibility of them feeling isolated or being avoided or they may wish to take over details to protect the person from further pain. It is important that the grieving person is assertive about their needs and wishes, and it is helpful if they communicate with family, friends, and colleagues rather than leave them guessing about what would be useful and comforting. Never underestimate the power of listening and being a warm presence. There are no magic words or actions. Trust your ability to care taking into account your relationship with the person you are trying to help.

Is there a right way and a wrong way of coping with grief?
People are individuals with personalities and life experiences, which influence the way in which they deal with grief. People's style of grieving must be respected and in this sense there is no right or wrong way of coping. However it is generally believed that the amount of support people receive can ameliorate some of the impact of grief and facilitate recovery. People often have an awareness about what they need to do to feel better but feel inhibited or judged and don't act on their inclinations. Talking about what is happening, what they are going through, expressing emotion and existing in a supportive and accepting climate is generally helpful. Cultural factors may impact on a persons feelings of a "right" or "wrong way".

How do I know I need help?
Reassurance from others who have also experienced grief and an understanding of what people have commonly undergone when grieving can be a helpful yardstick. Any continued fears or anxieties about your well being or thoughts of self-harm should be addressed by seeking help. Prolonged intense emotion or obsessional thought or behavior that make functioning difficult may also require help.

Stages of grief
Grief does not follow a linear pattern. It is more like a roller coaster, two steps forward and one step back. Ultimately people manage to integrate the experience to the point of having a new life arising from the old. The loss remains and is always remembered but the intensity is no longer disabling or disorganizing.

Much of grieving is about expressing emotion- some may be unfamiliar, and unacceptable to self or others, eg, rage, guilt, remorse. Finding a safe place and an accepting person for support to work through all the effects of bereavement is important. The amount of support available from family and friends may be limited if they too are grieving. Misunderstandings can arise when people are at different points within the grief experience. External supports may then become a vital factor in surviving and continuing on. It is important to know that you can survive the experience and that the new life that eventually comes about may have very positive effects despite the difficulty of arriving at this point.

Does counseling help?
It is important to say that grief is a normal response to loss and that people frequently get through with the loving support of family and friends. However for a variety of reasons it may be necessary to seek professional help in the form of counseling. Counseling may initially intensify painful feelings as the external distractions are removed and the client is able to focus on their experiences and explore them fully. People who are grieving may need to talk about their story over and over again and are often concerned about the 'wear out' factor on family and friends, especially if details are very distressing. Equally they may find that others have unrealistic expectations of their recovery or experiences. Where people have to continue on in roles as parents or carers it may provide valuable time-out for their own need to grieve and receive support. A supportive, safe and accepting environment and time set aside regularly can make a great difference. It may provide comfort and hope at a time of great confusion and crisis.

Twelve Ways to Help the Bereaved

  • By being there
  • By tolerating silences
  • By listening in an accepting and non-judgemental way
  • Avoid the use of cliches such as "Think of all the good times", "You can always have another child" etc
  • By encouraging them to talk about the deceased
  • Be practical in your offer of support by minding children or cooking
  • By mentioning the dead persons name
  • Accept that tears are normal and healthy
  • Don't try to fill in conversations with a lot of outside news.
  • Remember that grief may take many years to work through
  • Acknowledge birthdays, death dates, anniversaries etc
  • By accepting that you cannot make them feel better


Questions and Answers provided by:

The Centre for Grief Education
McCulloch House
Monash Medical Centre
246 Clayton Road
CLAYTON VIC 3168 Australia