Frequently Asked Questions About Grief

What is Grief?

Grief is a normal response to any significant change which occurs in one's life situation. The English word "grieve" comes from the old French word "greve", meaning "heavy burden".

Do children grieve?

Absolutely. Children grieve at any age and their grief will be manifested in different ways depending on their age, life experience, family structure and developmental stage. Grief is a physical experience for children and they usually grieve intensely for short periods of time and then take a break. This break is usually in the form of play. Some adults misinterpret the child's play as a sign that they aren't grieving, which is not always true.

What are the feelings children have when they are grieving?

Common feelings children experience when someone they love has died are anxiousness or worry, sadness, anger, guilt, confusion, isolation, loneliness, fear and a feeling that their world is out of control.

Should a child be allowed to attend the funeral of a parent or other loved one?

This is a very common question often asked by parents and caregivers. Well-meaning adults may try to shield the child from the funeral to prevent them from experiencing the pain and distress of the loss, however it can be very beneficial for a child to participate in the process of mourning if they are able to understand the loss (by around age 2 or 3). Reasons that this can be beneficial include: it gives the child the opportunity to deal with his or her feelings about the loss, it creates a dialogue about the death and gives the child a chance to ask questions he or she may be having, and it gives the child the opportunity to say goodbye to the person who has died. When in doubt, it's always best to ask the child if they want to attend or not.

If a parent or caregiver is worried they will not have the opportunity to properly grieve at the funeral if the child is with them, a good alternative is to have a close family friend (someone the child trusts) sit with the child during the funeral so the parent or caregiver is able to openly grieve without worrying if their child is being attended to.

How can adults help grieving children?

Children need someone to listen to them and to validate the feelings they are having. They need outlets for expression of feelings such as art, play, music or dance. They also need ways to commemorate the life of their loved one who died. Most of all, they need love and support from those around them and reassurance that they will be taken care of.

Is the death of a loved one the only experience which causes true grief?

No. Many experiences can cause grief. Some of life's losses include: moving, divorce, the loss of a home, the loss of traditions, the loss of one's dreams, pets, jobs, health, routines, material belongings, relationships, opportunities, sentimental objects, self-image and of course, death.

How does grief affect us?

Grief can affect us emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically, behaviorally and always uniquely. Everyone's grief experience is different and unique. These feelings are very common in grief: shock, sadness, helplessness, numbness, irritability, depression, disbelief, loneliness, anger, relief and guilt. These responses are very common in grief: withdrawing, unexplained tearfulness, isolating, throwing things, yelling, frequent crying, and inability to sit still. Grief affects the way we think, resulting in: an inability to concentrate, daydreaming, forgetfulness and unfinished tasks, missing appointments and having no sense of time. Spiritual beliefs can be a source of strength and comfort but may be challenged when a person is grieving.

Grief causes physical reactions of: fatigue, lack of motivation, increased or decreased appetite, lack of energy, lack of initiative, sleeplessness, panic and anxiety, more frequent illnesses and sleeping a lot.

Grief hurts and there is no quick fix. Grieving is hard work and the support of family, friends, coworkers and church activities can be very important.

How long should grief last?

Grief is different for everyone and takes as long as it takes. Many times, at first, people feel a sense of numbness which usually wears off after 6 to 8 weeks; this is when many really begin to feel the depth of the pain and the loneliness. The first year can be quite difficult as it is a year of "firsts". It takes a full year to get through all of the holidays and other annual events that you once shared with your loved one. Grief does not magically disappear when the first year is over but should start to subside and continue to decrease as time goes on. Whatever your experience is, respect it and honor it.

How do I know if I should seek special help for my grief?

For some people, grief can get very complicated. The following experiences as well as the symptoms noted above are normal during the grieving process. However, if they become intense, causing risk to our physical, emotional or spiritual well being, it's very important to get extra help.

  • A preoccupation with the loss many months after it has occurred.
  • Use of drugs or alcohol to diminish the pain.
  • Thoughts of suicide, wishful thinking of death, difficulty imagining the future.
  • Feeling trapped, alone and unable to talk to friends or family about what happened.
  • Flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, intense anxiety and the need to tell the story repeatedly.
  • Ongoing, recurrent memories of the death or other loss that are disturbing work, home life or leisure time.
  • Over idealizing the deceased.

If you or a loved one is experiencing one or more of the above symptoms or if you think that you or a loved one may need help coping with complicated grief, please contact our Bereavement team.