Chapter 2: What does grief look and feel like?

How grief affects your emotions

The grief expert says
Fred Nelson, social worker, discusses understanding our feelings. (3:22)Video transcript
I've been there
Alvin shares how unprepared he was for grief. (3:22)Video transcript
Pina talks about trying to get away from grief. (3:22)Video transcript

"Life will never be the same again."

"I feel so broken."

Sadness is one of the most common reactions to grief. Sometimes we realize that plans we made will not happen, or that life will never be the same again.


"I hate that I can't change the fact that she's gone."

Feelings of powerlessness can make us angry. Our anger may be directed towards God, the health care system, or even the deceased for leaving us alone.


"I feel guilty about things that were left unsaid."

"How can I ever let myself be happy? It would be like I don’t miss him."

We can feel guilty after a moment of pleasure - like going to a movie and enjoying it. A week of relative peace can be followed by deep guilt that we were happy for a while.


"I am failing at getting over her death."

Being critical of ourselves is common and can lead us to question our feelings, coping ability and experiences.


"I can't stop thinking about those last days in the hospital. I get a little panicky."

Anxiety is very common. Some people find themselves replaying intense and scary moments at the hospital. Fear of forgetting the person who died is another common cause of anxiety.

Fear of judgement

"People don't seem to accept the way I am grieving."

Many people express fear that they are being, or will be, judged by their friends and family. They worry about failing expectations. They may receive subtle and not so subtle messages that they are not grieving quickly enough and should be better by now.

Loneliness and isolation

"I can't commit to seeing anyone. It is just too much."

Some people have never lived alone before and experience this type of loneliness for the first time when their partner dies.

Others choose to isolate themselves, for example, by refusing social invitations.

Fatigue and emptiness

"There is just this huge void inside me."

There can be a build-up of physical and emotional fatigue when someone close to us is dying. When this person dies, the running around attending to endless details finally stops. Many people experience emptiness and exhaustion at this stage.

Feeling helpless

"I don't even know who to call to help me with some practical things."

Where couples had a strict division of labour, the loss of a partner presents unique challenges. For example, someone who has never driven a car may have to learn this skill.


"Nothing seems real."

A feeling of unreality may last for a short or a long period of time.


"I miss her so much."

A feeling of unreality may last for a short or a long period of time. Yearning arises when we wish the person who has died was still with us. Some people will walk around their house calling out the name of their loved one when those feelings become intense


"I feel free now that I do not have to care for her."

"I have my life back and I feel so guilty for feeling this way."

Many people feel a sense of freedom when the suffering of their loved one is over and the demands of caregiving end. This sense of release can give rise to feelings of guilt.


"I feel relieved that I won't have to deal with his abuse anymore."

When the person who died was violent or abusive, it may be a relief that they are dead. Conflicted relationships can also be difficult to grieve with so many issues left unresolved.


"I feel like I'm walking in a fog."

The loss of someone important to us can be too powerful to absorb. The result is a form of numbness where we feel detached from our emotions.

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People experience many emotions in grief that can be very confusing and overwhelming at times.