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Staff Counselling Centre


Grief is a universal, healthy response to the experience of loss.  Loss can be experienced in relation to a wide range of life events and changes, such as the death of another person; a traumatic experience; relationship breakdown; leaving one’s home; illness or injury; the death of a pet. We are in many senses, always grieving – one loss echoes another, and as we get older, we become more familiar with the experience of grief.

There is no right or wrong way to experience loss, each of us will experience grief in our own way, and in the early stages of grief, our reactions and feelings might change from hour to hour, and day to day.  Grief reactions can feel intense and deeply painful – some people describe a physical ache. Over time, the emotional roller coaster becomes less intense as we adapt to our changed circumstances, but to begin with it can feel overwhelming. Conversely, we might feel numb – unable to comprehend what has happened.  How we grieve will also be influenced by other factors such as the relationship we had with the person who has died, our cultural and religious beliefs and our support networks such as family and friends.

Grief is not a linear process but more of a cycle of feelings and thoughts.  It is common to revisit periods of grief and sadness – this does not mean that you have slipped back in terms of progressing through your grief.


Understanding your emotions

Shock and disbelief

Initially you may feel shock characterised by numbness and confusion: It can feel difficult to comprehend what has happened and what this means to you.  Examples of feelings associated with shock are:


Often it can feel difficult to accept what has happened and there can be a powerful need to carry on as usual rather than focus on what has happened. Denial is characterised by feelings such as:

  • “It can’t be true – this can’t be happening to me.”
  • Searching for the person or subject of our loss – waiting for them to return.
  • Talking to or seeing the person who has gone (this can also feel comforting and reassuring and might continue beyond the early stages of grief).
  • Carrying on with daily life as if nothing has happened.
  • Keeping busy.

When loss occurs early in life, or at a time when the person grieving does not have the capacity to experience their grief, aspects of grieving might be delayed.  Revisiting loss that has occurred in the past, can feel bewildering and difficult to manage and a protective process of denial can mean that the feelings connected to loss are experienced out of context or in unexpected ways, a significant time after the person has died.

Sadness and longing

Coping with the loss of the person’s love, friendship, companionship and intimacy, the loss of hopes and opportunities for their future or a shared future can bring about a deep sense of sadness.  If you had a difficult relationship with the person who died, you may experience mixed feelings about the relationship – relief perhaps but also sadness that the relationship cannot now be resolved – a feeling of lost opportunity or of things left unsaid.


Guilt and regret are feelings that many people experience after the death of someone close.  You may regret things you have said, or not said, or you may feel guilty for not keeping in touch as regularly as you feel you should have.  It is not uncommon for people to feel guilt that they continue to live when another is dead.  If the death was due to suicide, there are often unanswered questions, and your feelings of guilt may be deepened.  You might feel a sense of responsibility of blame for what has happened – it is important to share that feeling with others you are close to in order to hear their perspective.


It is not uncommon to feel angry when someone you care about dies.  You might feel rageful – at nothing in particular – but a profound feeling of frustration and despair that they are no longer alive.  You may feel angry with others for carrying on with life and for not understanding your feelings.  You might feel angry with yourself, and most difficult of all, you might feel angry with the person who has died - for leaving you, and for the pain you are suffering as a result of their death.


In the uniqueness of your own experience, you might be able to find some comfort in your solitude, but you might also feel isolated.  Feelings of loneliness might seem wrong somehow, or it may feel you are not ‘grieving properly’– especially when others appear to be coping differently to you.  You might also find other people’s reactions difficult to deal with.  It is important to reach out to others when you feel isolated so that you can discover that while your experience is unique to you, others have encountered loss too and have some idea of how you are feeling.


Depression and grief are interlinked and it is common to feel some depression when you experience loss: A feeling of flatness, sleep disturbance, a loss of energy and appetite, as well as other symptoms of depression are commonly experienced when we are grieving.


You might feel relieved, especially if the death follows a long illness, or if the person’s quality of life had diminished and they were suffering.  This sense of relief may feel uncomfortable. You might need time to adjust to the loss rather than blame yourself for feeling this way.


Grief and everyday life

Grief also impacts the way in which we function day to day.    You may find it affects you in some or all of the following ways:

  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Loss of appetite or comfort eating.
  • Restlessness and preoccupation: Finding it difficult to relax and ‘switch off’ from what has happened and trying to make sense of it. 
  • Persistent thoughts about the person who has died and how they died.
  • Anxiety and panic:  You might feel more vulnerable: anxious about your own safety or the safety of others close to you.
  • Managing ordinary, everyday things like shopping, academic work or cooking, might feel overwhelming. 
  • Previous sources of pleasure may feel meaningless.  You might lose interest in your usual social life.
  • Irritability:  Losing patience with others, and feeling that things are pointless.
  • Persistent tearfulness:  Crying can bring relief as it is an outlet for the emotions, tension and strain that have built up.
  • Other physical symptoms may include:  Palpitations, nausea, dizziness, tightness in the throat and digestive problems - all can be experienced during grieving.  If you are concerned, consult your GP.

These reactions will decrease over time.


Coping with grief

Ask for support

It is not always easy to accept support.  Ask someone you feel you can trust - a friend, or family member or someone in your faith community if you have one.  You may want to contact the University Staff Counselling Centre to apply for counselling. Talking to a counsellor can provide you with a neutral confidential space in which you can express and reflect on your feelings.

Express yourself in some other way

Many people find writing or drawing their feelings can help to clarify the overwhelming mix of emotions. Others need to spend time walking or in some other physical activity. Try to explore what feels helpful and comforting to you.

Keep some mementos

Find something which helps you to remember the person who has died.  This might be photos, jewellery or a piece of clothing.  If none of these are available to you, try and think of a place or an item that can symbolise your connection to the person who has died.  Remembering is painful to begin with, but over time painful memories ease and feel more manageable.

Try to exercise

This might be the last thing you feel like doing, but it usually helps.  Exercise uses up excess energy and it can also be a way of expressing or being in touch with the emotions you are feeling.

Look after yourself

You may feel you can’t be bothered or that there’s no point, but it will help.  Have small nutritious snacks if you don’t feel like eating; maintain your daily routine of getting up/going to bed; try to allow time for yourself – grief can feel tiring even if you are having trouble sleeping.  It can be tempting to numb your feelings with alcohol or drugs - but while this will bring short-term relief it is useful to remind yourself that grieving is a healthy and beneficial process.

Don’t expect too much of yourself - grieving takes time, and can be exhausting.  Concentrate on living through the present. 


Looking to the future

After the initial shock most people begin to adjust to living without the person who has died.  The change is usually gradual, but over time you are likely to feel less overwhelmed and preoccupied by the loss. To begin with you may think about what happened and about the person who has died almost constantly, but in time people find that this reduces - at first just for a few minutes, then for hours and eventually for days at a time.  This does not mean that your loss means any less to you but is the means by which you will be able to engage with your life, while carrying your feelings of loss.

The grieving process enables you to learn to live with loss.  As you grieve, life will slowly begin to feel meaningful and even enjoyable again.  There will be times, though, when you are taken by surprise - a piece of music or a place may remind you of the person who has died and you will find yourself flooded by grief all over again.  This, too, lessens in time. Special days or anniversaries, especially the closer after the death, can be difficult.  Some people find it helpful to plan for these anniversaries and to mark them in some personal way.  The experience of grieving can give you the opportunity to reassess your priorities, values, beliefs, hopes, aspirations, friendships. 


When to seek additional help

If you are finding it difficult to cope on a day to day basis, or your feel isolated or persistently overwhelmed, reach out for help.

Mental health services

Cruse Bereavement Support


Staff Counselling Centre: 



Tel:                     01223 762160