How we experience grief and loss

By Julia Samuel, Founder Patron of Child Bereavement UK

Psychotherapist specialising in grief and author of Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving

How we experience grief and loss and how we process it will have lots of invisible components.

When you have a physical illness or an accident, everyone can see that something isn’t right. When you’re grieving, nobody can read it on you, nobody can see that you’re wounded. Grief is an invisible wound. You look in the mirror and see the same person but at the same time you almost don’t recognise yourself because you feel so different inside.

All of us are recognisably human beings but we’re also very different, with our hair colour or eye colour. It’s the same with grief - we’re different emotionally and psychologically in how we process pain on the inside.

How we experience grief and loss and how we process it will have lots of invisible components: our upbringing, our previous history of loss, the support we have at the time of the loss, the circumstances of the loss, and the relationship with the person that died. All of this is invisible. 

What someone who is grieving needs is support for having the courage to feel the pain, to find ways to express it, coupled with an acknowledgement of the suffering that you’re experiencing. 

When you’re grieving, others may want to fix you, but grief cannot be ‘fixed’. They may try to reassure you by saying things like: ‘You’re doing so well’; ‘You look great,’; ‘Gosh, aren’t you brave?!’ All that may well be true, keeping going can be helpful. And what someone who is grieving needs is support for having the courage to feel the pain, to find ways to express it, coupled with an acknowledgement of the suffering that you’re experiencing. 

The key to supporting someone who is bereaved is to listen and pay attention to them. The first helpful step is always to acknowledge their loss and then listen and follow their direction. If they change the subject, let them. Just listen, and through listening, you will be able to respond accurately to what you hear.  

Julia is Founder Patron of Child Bereavement UK, visit her Patron's page to find out more.