Understanding Grief

Grief can be challenging at times – whatever kind of change or loss has caused it, and whatever age or stage we are.  Understanding it more can help us as we experience it, and if we’re supporting others who are grieving in a different way from us.

What is Grief?  It’s the normal, healthy process that kicks in after a difficult change or loss in our lives.  Its purpose is to help us to gradually adjust our lives, and thoughts, and emotions, to the reality of life after what’s happened. It is directed by our brain. It takes the time it needs to take. How long that will be is different for everyone. And when a loss has been big, then we can expect its impact to be big too. Gradually, grief helps us build our lives out around what’s happened, so we can move forward. What’s happened stays in our memories and remains an important part of our experience.

  • All ages and stages and ethnicities experience grief – It’s a normal human process.
  • Although it is normal, when a loss is a big one and the grief reactions are strong, it can feel anything but normal! Grief can be hard to cope with sometimes.
  • Grief affects every part of us – our emotions, our body, our thinking, our relationships, and our spirituality and beliefs about the world.
  • Every person grieves differently. Our grief is as unique as our fingerprint. We each need to be able to grieve in our own way.
  • There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways to experience grief, or to cope with it – except it’s important to avoid coping strategies that can make the experience harder, or can be harmful to the person or others. (Such as reliance on alcohol, drugs, the use of violence when a person is raging inside, active suicidal thinking or extreme self isolation for a sustained amount of time.)
  • Grief isn’t a test, a race or a competition.
  • There are no rules, set timetable or set stages – it takes the time it needs to.
  • Grief reactions can be re-triggered at any point – even years later. They can be triggered by even small tings – like a song, a smell, a photo, a taste, somewhere we go to or something we see. Grief ‘waves’ can surprise us sometimes with their intensity, even though they’re a normal part of the grief and loss territory.
  • No secret method can take grief instantly away. However, as the grief process works its way through, the pain of loss gradually begins to ease, bit by bit.
  • There is no shame in grief – it’s part of life, it’s the price of love.
  • If grief intensifies over time, if concerning reactions become more extreme or a threat in any way, if grief disrupts daily life or work significantly after many months, if its appears the person may have developed depression or high anxiety levels alongside grief, then extra help may be needed to give the person a hand. See a GP or a local counsellor as a first step.

Helpful information can be found at:

Skylight, a national grief support organisation, offers helpful online articles on a wide range of grief topics, as well as a loaning library.

The Grief Centre, in Auckland, also offers resources and information about grief.

Or, you could check out your local library for books about grief – many have a good range.

Keep a look out for community talks or workshops on grief that may be offered locally.