The Counselling Centre


The death of someone close to us is one of life’s most stressful events. We fear loss of companionship and the changes it will bring to our lives. It takes time to heal and each of us responds differently. The period of grieving depends on the situation and varies greatly from person to person. Grieving helps us to come to terms with our relationship to the deceased and re-focus our energies toward the future.

Realize your feelings are normal. After the death of a loved one you may experience a range of emotions. These emotions may include despair, sadness, confusion, anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, resentment, numbness and/or relief.

Find healthy ways to express your feelings & thoughts. Feeling and expressing your emotions is one of the most critical requirements in your grief work. Identify, accept and express all your various feelings over the loss and its consequences. Talk about your feelings to a friend, family member, counsellor, or someone else that you trust. You may want to express your feelings through an artistic outlet such as painting, drawing, music, or you may want to try journal writing.

Gather Information. Increase your understanding of the grieving process. Learn about how grief affects you psychologically, physically and socially. If you do not have accurate information then you may have unrealistic expectations for yourself in your grieving process.

Care for yourself physically. Grieving is hard work that can be emotionally exhausting. It’s especially important at this time to ensure you get adequate rest and nutrition. It is also important to exercise on a regular basis to help combat depression, stress and tension.

Accept Support. Let others reach out to you socially, emotionally, physically and behaviourally. In the early period of your grief it may help to give up some control and let others help you and nurture you. It does not mean that you are weak, immature or dependent. It doesn’t mean others do the grief work for you. It only means you allow yourself to be supported and comforted in order to meet the heavy demands of your grief.

Seek Support. Ask others for what you want and need. Many people who want to help you may not know how to do so. It’s unfortunate that at this time when your energy is low you need to teach others how to help you, however, if you do not ask you may suffer the consequences of inappropriate expectations of others or lack the assistance you need.

There is no correct way to grieve; your grief will be unique to you. Try not to compare yourself to others. As long as you are not avoiding the grief process, are attending to the tasks of grief and not causing yourself additional stress by your coping behaviours, you’ll likely go through the grief process in your own way.

Expect to talk about many of the same things repeatedly. In the shock phase of your grief, repeating your story slowly makes the reality of the death more real, as it can be too terrible to absorb all at once. Reviewing your story also helps you develop a different type of relationship with the person that reflects the reality of his/her death. Each time you tell your story, you’ll get more of a handle on it and little more control over it.

Bereavement rituals can be helpful to you in your grief. Rituals such as wakes and funerals offer an opportunity to express your sadness and give others the opportunity to comfort and show their concern for you. You may also want to consider creating your own ritual that is more personal like lighting a candle in your loved one’s memory or making a wreath, writing a poem, etc.

Give yourself breaks from your grief. You cannot focus on your grief all the time. Take a break every so often, just as you would if you were engaged in physical labour. Replenish yourself in solitude or with others, try to have some fun. Having fun or taking a break is not a betrayal, it does not mean you don’t love and miss your loved one.

Recognize that despite your inability to feel that it’s true; your pain will subside at some point as long as you work through your grief. It’s understandable to doubt this especially when you’re in the middle of intense grief. However, there is purpose in your grieving and the pain won’t always be as strong as it may be now. At some point you’ll feel more like your old self.

Seek professional help. Grieving takes time. If you are concerned or worried about your reactions, or need someone to talk to, seek professional help.


  • Try to make major life decisions early in your grief.
  • Numb your pain with alcohol or other drugs, it will not make the pain go away, it will only delay it and it will tend to make you more depressed.
  • Deny your feelings.
  • Isolate yourself.
  • Expect to get better every day. Accept that you’ll have ups and downs.

Helping Someone who is Bereaved: Test your Grief IQ: Which of the statements below do you believe to be true?

  • All losses are the same.
  • It takes about three months to get over your grief.
  • All bereaved people grieve in the same way.
  • Grief always declines over time in a steadily decreasing fashion.
  • When grief is resolved, it never comes up again.
  • Family members will always help grievers.
  • Children grieve like adults.
  • Feeling sorry for yourself is not allowable.
  • It is better to put painful things out of your mind.
  • You should not think about your deceased loved one during holidays as it will make you too sad
  • Bereaved people only need to express their feelings and they will resolve their grief.
  • Men and women grieve in the same way.

* All of these statements are false.

How to Help

  • Offer a listening ear. Try to avoid giving advice. Allow the bereaved person to talk about the death and the dead person. It is frustrating for them to be steered away from subjects you may think are “unhealthy”. They need to talk about their loss
  • Give solid, practical help. Offer to cook an occasional meal, help with laundry, give them lecture notes that they missed, take care of their pets, etc. Such simple gestures can be invaluable to a person or family in shock.
  • Don’t offer false comfort. Statements like “at least the suffering is over”, “you’ll get over it in time”, or “it's God’s will” may make you feel better, but will likely make the bereaved person feel worse.
  • Encourage professional help. Not all bereaved people want or need counselling, but many find it helpful. You may want to let the person know that Saint Mary’s University offers free, confidential, professional counselling.
  • In general – Don’t try to protect the bereaved from their loss. Their pain is a necessary part of their recovery.

The Counselling Centre offers individual and couples counselling to help with these issues. For more information, call The Counselling Centre at 420-5615 or drop by our office on the 4th floor of the Student Centre.