It can be difficult to navigate through all of the grief resources out there, particularly when you have recently lost someone you love, if you are approaching the end of your own life. Everyone experiences grief uniquely and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. So we have compiled the 10 most frequently asked questions about the grieving process and provided some answers.

We hope that some of these answers will help prepare you for what to expect and how to cope with grief and loss, whatever you’re experiencing during one of life’s most difficult challenges.

1. What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is what we can experience when we know a loss is coming.  Not everyone experiences anticipatory grief and it can manifest in different ways – people facing a loss may be angry, impatient or in denial. They may, perhaps, struggle with the realisation that the impending loss is not something that they can control. This can be a really difficult time to navigate and it might be a good time to seek help from an experienced psychologist or counsellor. They can help support you through the process of anticipatory grief and bereavement.

2. When will things get back to normal after the death of a loved one?

Grieving is not a process that we emerge from as we were before our loss. Grief is a process of adaption – there is no returning to the normal of before, but rather finding space for our grief and developing a new normal. This does not mean forgetting the person who we’ve lost, nor does it mean that we’ll no longer have moments of intense sadness, pain and difficulties. There is no single, set process for grieving and no single timeframe for how long grieving takes.

3. What should I say to someone who’s bereaved?

Often, we can be terrified of saying the wrong thing when someone’s experienced a loss. We’re worried we will add to their pain and might avoid talking about the loss – or we avoid talking to them altogether. Instead, talk to people who have experienced a loss the same way that you would speak to them normally. Ask them what they need, but keep in mind that sometimes people may be so overwhelmed that they won’t be in a position to communicate what they would like you to do.

Depending on your relationship with them, it might be better to make concrete offers, such as: “I’m going to drop a meal off on your doorstep tomorrow. What time would suit and what would you like?” rather than, “let me know if you need anything.” Conversely, if you’re concerned about overstepping boundaries or crowding them, you can check in and ask: “would it be helpful for me to do this?”

It’s important to realise that people who have experienced a loss grieve differently. Some people may be keen to talk about the person they are grieving, but others may find this too painful for them. Ask them what they would like to talk about and tell them how you are feeling. Sometimes knowing that other people are hurting and missing the person who has died can be a great comfort.

A woman experiencing grief after death
Following a loss, you may experience all of the five stages of grief, or you might experience only one or a few.

4. Will I go through all five stages of grief?

The five stages of grief – a model coined by American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her work, On Death and Dying – has become synonymous with the grieving process for decades. The five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) were never meant to be a rigid concept that people move through chronologically, but a way of examining the impact that impending death might have on patients who are dying. Following a loss, you may find that you experience all of the stages in roughly the order laid out by Kübler-Ross, or you might experience only one or a few.

The wonderful thing about the concept of five stages of grief is that it has normalised the complex responses we have when we experience a loss as well as starting the conversation about the intricacies of grief. The important thing to keep in mind is that acceptance does not mean that we are no longer affected by the grief; rather that we have made space for it in our lives.

5. Should my children go to the funeral of their loved one?

People often assume that a funeral is not appropriate for a child. There may be reasons why it isn’t appropriate for your children to attend a particular funeral (in the same way that it might not be appropriate for your child to attend a graduation ceremony or a formal dinner), but generally it’s constructive for a child to be included.

The value of the funeral is in acknowledging our loved one’s legacy; in coming together; in being able to say goodbye. These things are just as valuable for a child as they are for an adult. Attending a funeral, hearing people and seeing the casket or coffin may also help younger children accept the irreversibility of death – realising that their loved one is not coming back.

6. How do I talk to someone who’s dying?

Talk to someone who’s dying the same way you would always speak to them, just like our advice on what to say to someone who’s bereaved. People who are approaching the end of their life may find that their friends, families and acquaintances start treating them differently or avoiding them altogether.

Make time to check in with them, even if it feels awkward or frightening. If you’re unsure whether they’d like to discuss their diagnosis or plans around death, simply ask them.

7. Why am I struggling to get on with my life after my loved one died?

Grief can impact us in very different ways. While some people will find solace in throwing themselves into work or other projects as a way of dealing with bereavement, other people may struggle with workloads and even basic things such as keeping on top of housework. How we grieve is unique to each of us and it can take time to adjust and adapt to life after we’ve lost someone we love.

Treat yourself kindly, like you would a close friend or a child who is struggling with loss. If intense feelings and difficulties are still being experienced a year after a loss, it might be time to consider approaching your family doctor, a psychologist or a counsellor – if you haven’t already – as you might be experiencing prolonged grief disorder.

8. How do I know if my kids are coping with their grief?

Children’s capacity to feel grief is often underestimated by adults. One of the reasons for this is that children tend to grieve differently to adults – having moments of intense sadness and then moments where they seem fine.

Children may not have the words to verbally express the emotions that they’re experiencing and may instead express themselves in other ways. Bereaved children may become more irritable, distracted and complain of physical discomfort like headaches and stomach aches.

Children may also become clingier and more demanding with the adults in their life and may lose their appetite and interest in normal activities. Grieving children may start having problems with sleeping – either trouble falling asleep or waking during the night.

A child’s grief manifests in ways very distinct from an adult’s and it’s worth keeping a close eye on your child and taking note of any behaviour that’s out of character.

grief after death of a loved one
A child’s grief manifests in ways very distinct from an adult’s.

9. How should I talk to my children about death when someone we love has died?

It’s natural to want to protect our children, but sometimes our attempts to protect them from the difficulties associated with death actually backfire and make the whole situation much more scary and stressful than it needs to be.

Use concrete language with children – explain what death is and make it clear that whoever has died is not going to come back. This may be a struggle for younger children to comprehend, but gently and clearly repeating it when required will help them grasp the idea of death.

It’s also important to talk about the person who has died and how they lived their life. Find ways for your child to maintain a sense of closeness to the person that they’ve lost. This might be talking about them regularly, telling your child stories, encouraging your child to write them letters or perhaps taking flowers to where ashes have been scattered or interred.

10. When should I see a counsellor or psychologist if I’m struggling with grief?

A psychologist or counsellor will be able to provide strategies and support around grief and loss whether you’re anticipating the death of someone you love following a recent diagnosis, or trying to find your way after their death. Finding a healthcare professional you click with might take a few tries, but there is no wrong time to seek help if you feel like you need it.

Grief and bereavement support

There is nothing wrong with reaching out for help. A place to start would be the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, providing excellent information on bereavement services available throughout Australia. But for more immediate help call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

More information on grief support is available on the Bare Cremation website, including our list of grief counselling and support services across Australia that includes more contacts that might help.

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We hope our answers to these frequently asked questions about experiencing grief will help you better navigate the process of loss and understand what you might be feeling.

For help personalising your loved one’s funeral or memorial, visit our Funeral Services page or call 1800 071 176.