Normalising grief and getting people talking

From the 2nd– 8th December, it’s National Grief Awareness Week, which aims to break the taboo to normalise grief and encourage a safe space to talk about the subject.

Anxious man looks out of window

What is grief?

Grief is how we respond to losing someone or something important. The symptoms can include shock, numbness, overwhelming sadness, fatigue, anger and guilt.

Bereavement is one of the main causes of grief and can affect anyone young or old. People can also experience grief from different types of loss like the ending of a relationship or losing their home or job. This type of loss can still feel as intense and upsetting as bereavement from losing a loved one can.

We’re all feeling a greater sense of loss this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From losing loved ones, to losing jobs and connections with our family and friends, it’s been a tough one. Some people may even feel they’ve lost the world they once knew. That’s why more than ever we need to reach out to those who are grieving and have an open, healthy conversation about loss.

Stages of grief

When experiencing grief or bereavement, it’s important to understand the stages that you or a person close to you is going through. This can then be helpful when moving forward towards coping with what has happened and eventually feeling less intense emotions over time. The four stages of grief include:

These stages are not necessarily experienced in this order, differ from person to person and can be experienced multiple times.

Feeling grief is a natural body response so shouldn’t be avoided or ignored, however, there are small things you can do to help towards the healing process such as:

But most of all, talking about grief and how you’re feeling to a friend, family member, health professional or therapist can give you the support you need.

Providing support

If you’re someone who is helping a loved one through grieving, it’s important that you give them your full attention and listen carefully. Starting a conversation with “do you feel like talking?” lets the person know you’re there for them and ready to listen, even if they’re not ready to talk.

When talking about bereavement, try not to move the conversation in a different direction when the deceased person’s name comes up, this is a chance for the person grieving to talk openly. There may be times where you’re unsure of what to say, be honest and let them know but also remind them that you care.

Try to avoid saying things like “look what you have to be thankful for” or “it’s time to get on with your life” as both these sayings can demean how the person is feeling and pressure them into not having the time they need to grieve.

There are also practical things you can do like run errands for them, help them with funeral arrangements, taking care of children or pets, or dropping off food for them. Your support will go a long way to showing your loved one you’re willing to help them through a difficult time.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has meant we need to keep our distance from our family and friends, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find the time to connect and express feelings of grief with them. This year’s tagline for National Grief Awareness Week by The Good Grief Trust, is “distance shouldn’t mean we can’t share our grief”.

The campaign is encouraging people to get involved on social media by sharing their stories of grief and loss. This is to help bereaved people feel acknowledged, understood and create a space where they can talk about grief. If you would like to get involved, use the hashtag #shareyourstory and #NGAW20.