Guide to Dealing with Grief & Loss
How to Help Someone with Grief?
You’ll want to bookmark this. Grief is something everyone will go through at some point in their lives. It’s not anything to feel “bad” or “wrong” about. In fact, it can be a positive process if we learn to grieve well.
What is Grief?
Grief is the normal human reaction we go through when we face a loss.
Loss is no longer having the presence or possession of someone or something; it could be the loss of a loved one due to their passing, divorce or imprisonment, the loss of a child due to miscarriage or their marrying out, the loss of a job or financial security, the loss of hopes and dreams due to injury or circumstances, the loss of a familiar environment due to moving houses, the loss of familiar patterns in life.
Grief is a process that is typically understood in stages. The late Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first theorised the concept of the 5 stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying in 1969. Others have since expanded it to the 7 stages that we now know.
When we understand the grieving process, we can work towards healing and acceptance to move on in life.
The 7 Stages of Grief
Stage 1: Shock & Denial
The first reaction when we learn of a loss is usually shock— a sudden realisation of no longer having someone or something around. This may be followed by denial— refusing to accept that the loss has happened.
It can cause confusion, anger and hopelessness, or the complete opposite: a lack of feelings or a dull numbness, as though we’re watching the world go by but we’re not a part of it.
Stage 2: Pain & Guilt
Following the initial shock, we may feel empty on the inside. Some would describe this feeling as a “hole in the heart”. This emotional pain could manifest as physical pains.
We may feel guilty for causing the loss or for bothering others with our “petty problems”, or even for feeling relieved that our loved one is no longer suffering. Our minds may constantly circle back to regrets of not having done more and thoughts like, “How could I not have seen that coming? I should’ve recognised the signs earlier!”
Stage 3: Anger & Bargaining
As we try to patch back the “hole in the heart”, we may turn to anger at ourselves, at specific people, at God or at the world at large. We may get angry that life is unfair and that the grieving process is so hard.
Others may experience bargaining, saying things like, “If I could only have it back, I’d promise to be so much better.” One may even feel hopeful at this stage dreaming of the possibilities of regaining the loss.
Stage 4: Depression
However, when our bargains fall through, and the reality of the loss sets in, we may enter the stage of depression. Not to be confused with clinical depression (although prolonged grief may sometimes lead to clinical depression), we may feel isolated and distant from others, unable to feel joy about usually joyful things, and may have trouble eating, sleeping and concentrating.
We may feel hopeless and “unloved”, but it’s important to stay connected with friends and seek support instead of avoiding contact with others at this stage.
Stage 5: The Upward Turn
From here on, the feelings of pain and sadness gradually fade away. We may not notice it right away, but a light is beginning to form at the end of the tunnel. We may begin to laugh and smile again, and our thoughts may shift from hopelessness to thinking of ways to honour our loved one or moving on to a new path in life.
Stage 6: Reconstruction & Working Through
After the upward turn, it becomes much easier to feel hopeful and optimistic. We may have more energy to go about our daily duties and can rebuild confidence and regain control of our lives. If we lost touch with friends, we can reconnect with them and find meaning in life again. This is when we take practical steps to move forward.
Stage 7: Acceptance & Hope
Accepting the loss doesn’t mean being resigned to the fact or forcing yourself to feel “happy” about it. On the contrary, it’s a deep sense of peace at having come to terms with the loss.
While we may still feel moments of sadness when it resurfaces in our minds, these don’t last very long, and we are able to accept it and move on again. Painful reminders of loved ones slowly turn to fond memories that we can cherish and find joy in.
These stages don’t always happen in chronological order for everyone. You may find yourself circling back within stages or skipping some entirely. But it’s useful to know about the different stages of the grieving process for greater clarity and understanding of one’s own emotions.
How Do You Overcome Grief?
We’re going to be honest and open here. It’s not actually so much of overcoming as in defeating/ obliterating grief as it is going through it well. Grief is an important process that helps you to heal and carry on with the changes in life.
It varies for people; it may take weeks for some and months to years for others.
Does Time Really Heal?
You may have heard it said, “Time will heal,” but that’s not always the case. If your sock has a hole in it, it will not stitch itself back over time. The feelings of pain from the loss may subside over time, but if one has not fully recovered from it, it may bleed into other aspects of life.
You may find yourself becoming more irritable, overly dependent on certain things, constantly worrying about losing someone or something else, or even experiencing unexplained physical ailments.
The Best Things You Can Do for Yourself
Give voice to suppressed feelings
Talk out the guilt, blame, shame, anger and regrets you’re feeling. Find a trusted friend whom you know won’t judge what you say. You can also pre-empt your friend, “I have something I really need to tell someone about. Please just listen. No need to tell me how to get better. I appreciate you just being here for me.”
If you’re more comfortable with processing your feelings on your own, you can choose to talk out loud in a quiet room or write your thoughts down in a journal. Verbalising your emotions can help you to process them bit by bit.
Take it one step at a time, one day at a time
Anna’s song in Frozen 2 when she lost her sister Elsa was very appropriate for dealing with grief and loss:
“Just do the next right thing
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing
I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath
This next step
This next choice is one that I can make”
Sometimes, the only thing you do is to take the next step— and the next, and the next, and before you know it, you’re walking along again.
Acknowledge small wins
Know when you’re making progress through the stages of grief. When the pain, hurt and guilt are slowly subsiding, celebrate that. Recognise when you’re able to forgive others and move on. Record these in a journal or tell a friend so that you can rejoice in the little things together.
When to Get Professional Help for Grief
If you’re having difficulty processing grief on your own or if it’s hindering from doing necessary daily tasks, you may consider seeing a professional grief therapist or counsellor.
Feeling stuck in one stage of grief for a prolonged period may also indicate that you could seek professional help.
How to Help Someone with Grief?
- If a friend or loved one is going through grief, you can let them know that you’re there for them and that when they’re feeling ready, they can come to you to talk it out.
- Although you may feel the urge to give advice and state your opinions as your friend is speaking, you may want to refrain from doing so, as this may push your friend away. This means avoiding saying things like, “You’ll feel better if you just get out more often,” and, “Don’t worry, you’ll get over it soon.”
- Even statements with good intentions like, “Don’t feel bad about it,” and, “No, it’s not your fault,” may signal to a grieving friend that they should not be feeling the way they do. It may be a good idea to let your friend express their thoughts freely so that they can fully go through the grieving process.
- Instead, you can say, “I don’t fully understand the weight of what you’re feeling, but I’m here for you,” or, “If you ever need me, I’m just a phonecall away.” Sometimes you don’t even have to say anything. Just being physically present, giving a comforting hug or holding their hand is enough to help someone tide through the grief.
On Grieving Well
Everyone goes through grief in a different way. Even siblings will grieve differently over the passing of the same grandparent. There is no “right” way to grieve, but there is a way one can grieve well, and that’s understanding that grief is a process and that at the end of it, there’s hope and joy yet.
If you find yourself in need of a listening ear, you can seek help from therapists or counsellors who can help you to process your grief in a safe space.
Looking for professional help? See a grief therapist at Whispering Hope SG who specialises in the evidence-based Grief Recovery Method®
You may also approach one of our counsellors at TherapySG to walk with you through your grieving process