Grief & Loss

Understanding Grief & Loss

Grief & Loss

“Love and grief come as a package deal. If you love, you will one day know sorrow.”

― David Kessler, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief

Grief is our own instinctive response to loss. Even the most subtle losses in our lives can trigger a sense of grief. Grief is the emotional suffering we feel when something or someone we love is taken away. Grieving is a uniquely individual experience; there’s no right or wrong way to grieve and it’s not a linear journey. It’s not a series of stages or timelines and each of us will experience grief in our own unique way. The pain felt when we’re grieving can often feel overwhelming and may lead us to experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions and physical symptoms.

At some point in our lives, we will all face losing someone who is very dear to us. There are very few of us, however, who will be fully prepared for the overwhelming emotions that accompany a bereavement and the more sudden it is, the more overwhelming these emotions can feel. Grief and mourning are not just reserved for those of us who have lost someone who has died. It can also be keenly felt when we have lost something significant including:

  • Divorce
  • Miscarriage
  • Relationship breakup
  • Stillbirth
  • Infertility
  • Losing a job
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Ageing / Retirement
  • Serious Illness
  • Moving away or out of the family home
  • Empty Nest
  • Financial losses


Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the ending of an intimate relationship or any other serious setback, grief can affect us all in different ways and with varying intensity. The ending of a marriage or romantic relationship can give rise to feelings and behaviours that are analogous to grief and loss. Even though a person hasn’t died, there has nonetheless been an ending of something special and significant, thus our feelings and experiences can feel just as intense. When a marriage or significant romantic relationship ends, very often it’s connected to the loss of plans. Plans for the future are lost; possibly regarding what the relationship was going to be or who you were because of the relationship (e.g., from couple to suddenly single).

Even if our relationship was abusive or if we were unhappy in it, or if for some reason we believed that ending the relationship was the right thing to do at the time, it doesn’t mean that we won’t feel a sense of loss connected to the relationship ending. It’s entirely normal to feel a sense of loss and to experience the grief of a close relationship ending, regardless of who was the one to end it. Adjusting to and transitioning to our new life is part of working through our grief, in the present and towards the future without our significant other.

One of the most difficult things we may ever have to do is grieve the loss of someone who is still alive. Much of our lives is spent anticipating events that are about to happen; these can be both happy and sad events. When we learn that someone close to us doesn’t have long to live, we begin to grieve the anticipated loss of that person, even though they are still alive. This process is known as anticipatory grief and can be an extremely onerous part of the grief journey. What’s important to know, is that both the person who is dying and those who will be left behind will be grieving during this time.

When the loss of a loved one is abrupt, sudden, and unexpected, this is known as traumatic grief. Mass violence, terrorism, plane crashes, murder, fatal accidents, and suicide are some of the ways grief can be traumatic for the survivors and families of those who have tragically lost their lives. With traumatic grief, we are not merely mourning the loss of a loved one, we are left distraught and shattered by it; a loved one leaves the house to go about their normal daily activities, perhaps to go to work, out to dinner or to see a movie and they never return.

So, what then are the emotions and experiences that are associated with grief and loss?

  • Shock
  • Feeling numb as though in a daze
  • Denial
  • Feeling abandoned
  • Feeling overwhelmingly sad
  • Crying a lot, sometimes uncontrollably or feeling guilty because you aren’t able to cry
  • Physical pain and/or tension
  • Slowed thinking / mental confusion
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Inactivity or difficulty stopping activity
  • Nausea
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Longing and ‘searching’ for our loved one
  • Having to comfort others who are also grieving
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Loss of interest in activities enjoyed previously.
  • Talking to the deceased loved one
  • Marital or relationship stress
  • Impatience with others who are grieving the same loss due to different ways of feeling / expressing their grief.
  • Isolation/withdrawal from others

Grief can be exhausting, confusing, and confronting, feel surreal to us, and leave us feeling lost and bewildered. It can cause us to feel the most excruciating physical pain in our body that feels as though it might be enough to kill us. Grief can keep us in our bed for days on end. It can also cause us to feel separation anxiety so extreme, that it feels as if we’re losing our minds.

A major loss may make us feel alienated from others; it may make us feel as if we’re in a land of strangers, cut off from everything that made sense to us in the past. Grief can also cause us to say hurtful and insensitive things to others that we don’t really mean and that we may later have cause to regret.

When we grieve, we begin a process where we begin to navigate how the world will work now that we have experienced a great loss; when we have lost a loved one, experience a divorce, the loss of a relationship, or a job, and learn who we are now in this new, unfamiliar world.

Grief counselling provides support for the complex and individual needs of someone who is grieving. It provides a ‘scaffold’ to support your grief and to assist with creating a secure foundation so that you can re-engage with the world when you are ready.  

At Sydney Hills Counselling you can relax knowing that you are working with a fully registered, professional counsellor who will listen to what you tell me and I will ask you careful questions that can help you to understand more of what you are thinking and feeling. I can also provide you with support and strategies to help you to better cope with your grief and manage your thinking and emotions. My goal is to help you to live your life meaningfully despite your loss, and to find a sense of purpose although your life has now fundamentally changed. Please contact us today at (02) 9159 6277 or via email [email protected] for further information or to make an appointment.