Grief: Our reaction to loss

The reactions to death are many and varied and we grieve in our own ways and times.

We express grief in different ways depending on who we are, what we believe, our culture and the circumstances surrounding the death of loved ones.

Grief can ebb and flow, some days overwhelming and other days more bearable. It can rise and fall like the tide, and when it comes it can flood through our lives. It can take many forms some more recognisable but others less so and it’s useful to take a look at the ways grief can manifest itself both for our own self-understanding and in helping to support others. 

There is no right or wrong when it comes to grief. It is what it is. 

  • Tears. Some may cry while others may never shed a tear. 
  • Shock and disbelief. Even if we know death is coming it can still be a shock. Sometimes we can, without quite realising it, hold ourselves at a distance not willing to accept the inevitable. If the death is unexpected these feelings can be greatly heightened and take some time to come to terms with.
  • Loneliness and loss. They die and you lose so much. You lose their physical presence and that is just the beginning. It is their love, their friendship and their companionship that is cut loose. It their stories, their hopes and dreams that will no longer be heard.
  • Guilt and regret. Even in the most loving of circumstances guilt can creep in. Did I do enough before they passed? If there was an argument of some kind there may be regrets wishing words could be unsaid and guilt over promises not kept. “Survivor guilt” can occur where just being alive when your loved one is dead feels unfair. This is even more true for those who may have been in some kind of accident where they survived and the other did not. If the death was suicide, emotions can be complex with guilt appearing as questions such as; Am I to blame? Did I do enough to help them? What did I do wrong? These feelings may also be accompanied by shame and blame. 
  • Injustice. Why did s/he have to die ? Why did this have to happen to me ? It’s not fair!
  • Envy. You might envy others for having what you no longer have.  You could also envy others their seemingly carefree lives without loss.
  • Anger can manifest in all sorts of ways and even the most reasoned of people can be held hostage to it when it arises. You might find yourself feeling angry with the world or with other people for: –
  • causing the death
  • not being able to cure the illness
  • not understanding your feelings
  • making thoughtless remarks
  • carrying on with life and having fun.

Woman, Old, Senior, Desperation, Grief, Female, Person


You might also feel angry with yourself as well for something you did or did not do. It may come as a surprise but anger can arise for the dead person. You may feel really angry with them for dying. You might feel they abandoned you and you may blame them for the pain you are suffering as a result of their death.

  • Loneliness. Grieving can be a lonely process. Some families and communities are good at holding a space for grief but others are not and you may feel that no-one can possibly understand what you are going through or that no-one cares. Even in a supportive space you may still have those feelings. This may be especially true if that person played a major role in your life such as your partner or child.
  • Depression. Sadness is a natural part of the mourning process. You might lose interest in life and feel that there’s no point in going on and at worst you might feel despair.
  • Anxiety. You may be anxious about how you will cope without them and how you will cope in the future.
  • Relief. You might feel relieved, especially if the death follows a long illness or if the person’s life has been reduced to a shadow of what it once was e.g. through advanced old age. This can be hard to come to terms with and may be accompanied by guilt too. 
  • You might feel as though you will never recover and that these feelings will last forever. They will change over time and each person has their own journey to make.

It is important to remember that all these feelings are completely normal and there is no shame in them. If your feelings become overwhelming and you feel you are losing hope and not coping please get help. 

There are many places to go and get help. The Samaritans are a good place to start. or call 116 123