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What does grief look and feel like?

What does grief look and feel like?

Home » Advice » What does grief look and feel like?
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Written Winston’s Wish

When someone you know dies, the grief that you may experience can be quite puzzling. Grief is not something we can hold in our hand. Its shape is ever changing like the wind and as unique as a fingerprint or a wave in the ocean. So how can we know when we’re experiencing it, if it’s so hard to even put into words?

Firstly, we must understand that what grief looks and feels like will be different for each person, this is because no two people in this world are the same – we are all unique individuals. This means that other people cannot decide what your grief ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ look like. It also means that the people around you may seem to be handling things very differently at times, but that doesn’t mean that they are not grieving too.

We may also find that our grief looks similar to others. For example, many people will have times when they cry after losing someone important to them. Some people may feel okay to cry out in the open and others may cry only when they are alone. Some people may not cry at all – remember, this does not mean they are not grieving. Unfortunately, we have no guidebook for grief, so each of us must write our own.

Ways to explore your grief

To understand what your grief looks and feels like, you may have to do a little exploring by taking the time to reflect on it and giving yourself permission to feel it. You could:

  • Keep a journal to track any changes in thoughts, feelings, activities, motivation, or sleep.
  • Set aside time at the end of each day for quiet reflection.
  • Talk to someone you trust about it – they might be able to notice things that you don’t.
  • Take a creative approach and draw or build something that represents your grief. The process of this may help you to understand it better.

What does grief feel like?

Changes in feelings could be emotional or physical. You might notice emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt or anxiety that were not there before. You may also feel tired, achy, or tense in your body, experiencing headaches or stomach aches. Your grief could be felt as a deep pain or a heavy weight or a sinking sensation; or it could be felt as nothing at all, an emptiness.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when a feeling is the result of grief or something else in our lives and at other times it might be the result of both. Wherever the feeling is coming from, accepting it and practicing self-care is key.

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What does grief look like?

It’s not visible like a bruise but may show itself through changes in our behaviour. Grief can feel as though it’s taking up a lot of space in us, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and making it hard to concentrate. You might notice changes such as:

  • Avoiding going out with friends
  • Not doing things you used to enjoy
  • Becoming withdrawn or quiet
  • Struggling with school or university work
  • Not sleeping or eating well

Grief can also have an effect on the way we think about ourselves, others and the world. For example, you may begin to find certain things more or less important than before, or it might become harder to trust people.

Does grief last forever?

Even if you have a good idea of what grief looks and feels like to you, you may be wondering whether it will ever go away. Grief often results from a strong love or connection we had to the person we lost. This means there is a very strong chance that we will always miss them or be affected by their absence from our lives.

However, this does not mean our grief will always look and feel the same. While we may feel we are always carrying it with us in some way, as we continue to grow, we might notice it re-shape over time into something less complicated, less painful, lighter, or easier to bear. We call this, ‘Growing around Grief’.

So, what does grief look and feel like? If only there were one simple answer. What we can say is that everything is normal when it comes to grief but it’s good to keep track of how yours might be affecting you, so that you know when it’s time to reach out for support. While there are no solid answers, hopefully this will give you some ideas about how to explore and understand your own grief better; the courage to accept wherever you are in your journey right now; and the confidence to write your own rules when it comes to your grief.

How to get help

If you’re struggling with grief right now, Winston’s Wish is here to help and here to listen. Winston’s Wish provides support for grieving children and young people (up to the age of 25). We offer one-to-one and group support sessions. We also have lots of online resources and a Helpline and email service where you can talk to bereavement professionals.

You can call us for free on 08088 020 021 (open 8am-8pm, Monday to Friday), email ask@winstonswish.org or use our live chat (open 3-8pm, Monday to Friday) and find out more on our Get Support page.

If you need urgent support in a crisis, you can contact the 24/7 Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger by texting WW to 85258.