Chapter 2: What does grief look and feel like?

How grief affects your behaviour

Isolation and withdrawal

"Why are people who used to be close to me keeping their distance now?"

"I'm invited to lots of parties but I always turn them down. It is just too overwhelming."

Withdrawal means that we distance ourselves from other people. Isolation can result when people withdraw from us. Both are common in grief but usually lessen with time. Most people find that it takes courage to show up after a loss and participate in social gatherings again.

Being forgetful

"I'm always forgetting where I put my keys."

Problems with memory, such as forgetting appointments, are very common. Concentration is also affected. For example, you may be unable to stay focussed on reading a book or magazine.

Being unsocial

"I can't stand small talk anymore. It seems so meaningless."

Some people find themselves less sociable and even irritated when they hear "small talk" at social events. This may be due to a change in priorities. Small talk may seem trivial and meaningless compared to the impact of grief. It may also be hard to listen to other people talk about how well their lives are going when ours has painfully changed forever.


"I dream about her and she tells me she is okay."

"I wish I could dream about him but I don't."

"I have this recurring dream that is troubling."

Dreaming can be comforting and/or disturbing. Some people have reassuring dreams. A few have recurring nightmares. Others, yearning for contact with their loved ones, long for dreams but have none.

Avoiding reminders

"I took down all my photos of her."

"I can't go to that hospital anymore."

Some people remove all photographs of the person who has died or avoid places they visited together. Music, once a shared pleasure, can become a source of pain.


"I can't sit still."

Feeling on edge, fidgety, shaky or needing to move around are common. Some people keep the TV and radio on all day, finding it difficult to be alone or in silence.


"I suddenly cry. Afterwards, I usually feel a bit better."

Crying occurs in unexpected waves, generally reducing stress.

Visiting places

"I go visit her grave often."

You may find yourself returning frequently to favourite places such as restaurants and movie theatres. For some, visiting the cemetery and other significant cultural and spiritual/religious sites may be important.

Keeping belongings

"I could never throw out her purse."

Many people keep a picture or a keepsake of the person who has died in their purse or wallet. There is often fear of being judged if they give belongings away - but also if they hold on to things, such as clothes, pictures and the ashes, for a long time.

Changes in sleep

"I can't sleep."

"I sleep too much."

Changes in sleep pattern are common, from insomnia and trouble falling asleep to oversleeping and difficulty getting out of bed. Night-time may be filled with anxiety around sleeping alone. Some people are afraid they will not wake up, dying in their sleep as did their loved one.

Changes in eating

"I'm not hungry at all."

Undereating and overeating are common in grief. Guilt may accompany this behaviour - guilt, for example, about going out to a restaurant and enjoying a good meal.

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