Coping with the death of a loved one

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It happens to everyone, and there are many ways of getting through it and dealing with loss. Feeling overwhelmed is a natural response as you learn how to live in a different world without your loved onei.

In 2013, there were 147,678 registered deaths in Australiaii. Most people (80 to 85 per cent) gradually come to terms with their grief and do not need professional helpi. People who experienced the greatest distress tended to be those who were very dependent on the loved oneiii.

Those who have support from trusted sources have better outcomes.

There has been a move away by psychologists from focusing on the emotional impact of grief to the "social, cultural and spiritual" aspectsiii. The suggestion that people go through various set stages of grief has been rejected in favour of people experiencing various pathwaysiii. A critical issue, depending on your beliefs about death, can be making sense and meaning of it all. A benefit of coming to terms with the death of a loved one can lead, in the long term, to you gaining more resilienceiii.

We don't 'get over' deep grief but you can regain a sense of hope as you learn to live with your lossi.

  1. Be patient: grief is a natural response, which can make you think you're never going to get over it or you're going crazy. Your feelings might be very intense, or numb. People grieve in different ways, and this should be respected. It might last for months or years.
  2. Confide in trusted sources. People who have support have better health outcomes than those without.
  3. Eat a healthy diet and exercise, as you might feel a lack of energy and have trouble sleeping. Avoid alcohol and drugs, as they numb feelings and can prolong the healing process.
  4. Postpone major decisions until you can think more clearly. You might want a friend to look after the loved one's belongings until you can face dealing with these.
  5. Don't feel guilty about strong emotions: you can go through a range of these, which are a normal part of healing. It can take a while to gradually get back into everyday life.
  6. Take small steps, expect setbacks and know that you can heal.
  7. It will pass - the grief might seem unbearable, but take small steps, expect setbacks and know that you can heal. You will find new ways and habits to help work around your loss.
  8. Don't be embarrassed to ask for help - tell friends what they can do: for example, talk about the loved one, or get help with chores or funeral arrangements.
  9. Be ready for painful reminders that can trigger memories. Plan ahead with strategies on how you can deal with your emotions.
  10. Take a break from the pain by doing things you enjoy, even if you don't feel like it. When you're feeling disconnected from who you are, meditate, listen to music or take part in hobbies.
  11. Each person remembers their lost ones in different ways: you might want to have their belongings displayed, or put them out of sight until you can deal with themiv,v,vi.

Support services

Grief services aim to prevent ongoing physical and mental health problems.

There are specialist support services, such as for families of those who have committed suicide, victims of homicide and people experiencing road accident trauma.

Sometimes specialist services are formed after a natural disaster such as a bushfire or flood.


iAustralian Centre for Grief and Bereavement 2015, About Grief, viewed 15 May 2015,

iAustralian Bureau of Statistics, 2014, Deaths, Australia, cat. no. 3302.0, ABS, Canberra, viewed 8 May 2015,

iBonanno et al., 2004, cited by Hall, C. 2011, in ‘Beyond Kübler-Ross: Recent developments in our understanding of grief and bereavement', InPsych, December, viewed 11 May 2015,

iLifeline, viewed 15 May 2015,

iBeyondblue 2015, Grief and loss, viewed 15 May 2015,

iMayo Health Clinic, Grief: Coping with reminders after a loss, viewed 15 May 2015,