A young person hugging their friend to show support.

Grief and loss

What is grief?

Grief is how you react to losing someone or something in your life, it’s not just about death. Experiencing a loss can be incredibly tough, no matter who or what it is, or your relationship to them. But it’s not a mental health condition. It’s something that most people will experience at some point in life.

A young person alone and looking down at the ground.
I was so aware that the sympathy and questions all came from places of good intent, but I couldn’t handle being the spokesperson of our family’s emotions during such a difficult time.
Play Video: Our Activists share their experiences of grief. Our Activists share their experiences of grief.

We all grieve differently

Grieving is a personal thing. You might feel a mix of emotions, or you might feel numb. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Whatever you’re feeling is okay.

Everyone’s journey with grief is different. That means you might feel the loss differently to the people around you. Your culture, beliefs and community can all shape how you cope. Sometimes you might feel a pressure to grieve a certain way, but know that whatever feels right to you is valid.

Taking care of yourself and grieving your own way is important. But also try to be mindful of how others are grieving, as their process might look different to yours. They might not be ready to talk about it, even if you are. Neither of you is doing anything wrong; you’re just on different journeys.

Grief can hit you at any time. You might think it’ll happen at a certain moment, like your first holiday without the person you’ve lost. But it can also catch you off guard. Sometimes you might not feel anything for a while, and then it hits you much later – you might hear this called ‘delayed grief’.

How grieving might make you feel

Grief can bring up a bunch of emotions. Some people find it overwhelming. Others experience it as a physical pain. Some people find that they just feel numb.

There’s no right way to feel when you experience a loss. Your reaction is valid, whatever it looks like. And if you don’t feel much at all, that’s fine too. It doesn’t mean you’re made of stone, or that you didn’t care about the person you lost.

It’s also common for your feelings to change with time. Try to feel your feelings without judging yourself. Grief is hard, so try to go easy on yourself.

A Black teenage boy wearing a hearing aid bumping fists with a young Black man outside a front door.
When my best friend passed away, I barely remember the first few months after he died. I was weighed down by this cloud of absolute nothing. For me, that was one of the things I never knew about grief. It can be so many emotions - or it can be nothing at all.

Feelings of guilt and anger

When someone you care about dies or isn’t in your life anymore, it’s normal to feel guilty or like it’s somehow your fault. But it’s important to remember that you are not to blame at all.

Your emotions might shift and change, and that’s normal. But feeling less pain or sadness over time doesn’t mean you’ve stopped caring about the person you’ve lost. Finding happiness in the things you enjoy doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten them or stopped loving them.

Feeling anger is a normal response to loss as well. Especially if you didn’t get to say goodbye or had no control over how things were left. It’s okay to feel angry, but it’s important to understand that what you feel is valid.

Working through your grief

Grieving takes time and being with the people you love can help you through it. You might suddenly feel sad when you’re not expecting it or feel on edge about your health or other people’s. This is just your body and mind are reacting to the loss, and that’s okay.

You might never stop grieving, but opening up to your family and friends and figuring out what support you need can help you get on top of it.

Losing someone close to you can really shake up your life. If you’re struggling to accept their death, finding it hard to handle everyday things or feeling stuck, reach out to someone you trust. Talk to a friend, a sibling, a teacher or someone you trust about how you’re feeling. We all need help from time to time.

  • Grief doesn’t have a timeline. Just take one step at a time. There isn’t a guidebook on how to grieve and what emotions to feel. You may feel many emotions, you may feel a few emotions or you may feel none at all. If you feel a whirlwind of emotions it’s completely natural.
    Erin, 16
  • Take your time, there is no length of time you have to grieve. You are ready when you feel ready. You grief is valid, just breathe and think about the memories you shared. The pain may be excruciating now, but each day is going to be less painful.
    Charlotte, 24

Stages of grief

Grief is personal but there are five common steps that people go through - the ‘five stages of grief’. These can help you make sense of what’s happened and what you’re feeling. But they might not happen in order, or you might not go through them all. Sometimes, you might feel like you’re moving backwards – that’s completely normal. Take things at your own pace. Grief doesn’t have a timeline.

When it’s hard to accept what’s happened and you’re feeling confused and can’t understand it.

You might feel really angry, blame yourself or others for what happened or feel like things are out of control.

Feeling sad and lost after the loss, like everything just feels heavy.

You might feel guilty, thinking you could have done more or wishing things had turned out differently.

Starting to accept what happened, understand it, and feeling ready to take steps forward.

Getting help with grief

Two boys sitting in the park with their arms around each other, smiling and looking at each other.

It’s normal to feel down and a bit hopeless when you lose someone. But if you find that these feelings don’t go away, that you get physical symptoms, or you start thinking about hurting yourself, then it might be time to get help. A good first step is to see your GP. They can discuss things like counselling and medication.

It can be hard to reach out to your GP and talk about your mental health. But we have tips to help.

How to speak to your GP
  • Grief can be messy and complicated. But reaching out for support can really help.
  • I became very distant and didn’t put much effort into my work. It wasn’t until my tutor spoke to me and said that he thought I might be depressed, that I realised I had hit such a low.

Tips for expressing your grief

Sometimes, finding ways to express your grief can be helpful. Here are a few different ideas you could try if you’re struggling to cope with what’s happened:

  • Write a letter to the person you’ve lost, saying all the things you wish you could tell them.

  • Write a letter to someone who’s helping you, so they understand what you’re going through.

  • Keep a diary or journal to track how you’re feeling.

  • Try different creative activities like painting, writing poetry or taking pictures to show what’s on your mind.

  • Write a song or poem.

  • Make a box filled with things that remind you of the person you’ve lost.

Turning my pain into something creative helped me channel the anger and pain I was feeling.

How to help a friend who's going through a loss

Knowing what to say to someone who’s grieving can be tough. But just being there for them can mean a lot. Here are some other things you can do to support them.

Regularly check in with them, especially if there is a funeral. That can be a really lonely time for them. You could send them a message or ask them to hang out – whatever feels right.

You don’t have all the answers. Just being there to listen to what they’re going through can be a real comfort.

If it feels right, sharing your favourite memories of the person who passed away can be comforting. It keeps their memory alive and lets them know they’re not alone in missing that person.

It can be hard, especially if your relationship changes while they’re grieving. They might need different things from different people or stop messaging for a bit. Understanding and respecting what they need is really important.

Marie Curie has more tips and advice on how you can look after someone who's grieving.

Coping with grief and loss on big occasions

Big celebrations, like birthdays or religious holidays can be tough when you’ve lost someone important. Being around people you care about can sometimes help, but these moments can also bring the grief to the surface.

During those times, it’s important to take care of yourself. If things start to feel too much, try to step away and give yourself some space. It’s normal to miss the person you’ve lost and feel triggered by what’s going on. And remember, the people around you might also be grieving. Try to share what you need and understand their needs – it can help everyone to cope better.

Having a plan for if you start to feel overwhelmed can be helpful. You could tell someone you trust about how you’re feeling so they can check in with you. Knowing where you might be able to have some quiet time to regroup can help you to stay grounded as well.

If you’re grieving a death, these events can be times when you remember the person you’ve lost. Here are some ideas for how you can celebrate their memory:

  • Family traditions

    Carry on with activities or traditions you used to do together, like playing a game or visiting a special place. You could also create new traditions or fulfil something they always wanted to do.

  • Remembering together

    Visiting a special place, reading a poem or lighting a candle can help to focus in on the memory of the person who’s no longer with you.

  • Visit their resting place

    Go to where they are laid to rest with something personal, a handwritten note or some flowers.

  • Write a message

    Create decorations or a mural with messages from friends and family about the person you’ve lost.

  • Share memories

    Make time to talk about the person you’ve lost and share your favourite memories.

  • Remember their favourite things

    Spend time doing the things they enjoyed. This could be eating their favourite food or listening to a song they liked.

A mother reassures her son by putting her hand on his head
During the Christmas holidays there is often an unspoken pressure on everyone to come across as cheerful. Please know that you do not have to pretend that you’re okay just for the comfort of others.
Louisa, 17
medium shot of two girls sitting on a couch one is using a phone while another girl is glancing on her phone bottles and drinks are on the table as foreground
It’s okay to not be with people the whole of the Christmas period and just a small amount of time to recharge can be very beneficial.
Zoe, 20

Get help now

If you're not sure where to turn for support right now, these organisations can help. 

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