Coping with grief, what is it and where to get mental health support

Grief comes in waves

The death of Queen Elizabeth II on 8th September led to many people feeling a huge sense of loss. The Queen has been a constant presence throughout our lives, and indeed, many of us have only ever known one monarch during our lifetime. Chatting with friends and reading through commentary on social media, it seems like many people were quite surprised by their emotional response to the announcement that she had died. Although it might sound strange to say it out loud, many people didn’t expect to feel quite so sad about it. 

But that’s the surprising thing about grief – it doesn’t always look and feel how you think it will feel. Or how you think it should feel. It’s a very British thing to just ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, and more often than not, we put our feelings to one side without acknowledging them in order to do so. But the reality is that engaging with these feelings is actually really important. We need to recognise how we’re feeling (even if we can’t explain why) in order to allow ourselves to grieve. 

One of the most important things to understand is that there is no right or wrong way to feel when it comes to grief. It comes in waves, which often hit you when you least expect it – which is what happened to so many people in the days following the Queen’s death.

Collective and personal grief

Grief isn’t something that just affects us emotionally, it is something that we feel physically too (Cruse, 2022). It can have a profound effect on our mental health, and by talking about it we can help ourselves and each other through the difficult process of grieving. What many people experienced in terms of the Queen is ‘public grief’ or ‘collective grief’. Many people felt a sense of connection to the Queen, and so feel that they can talk about this more openly or attend an event in her memory to express their grief. Kessler (2022a) makes an interesting point that as humans ‘we [are] wired to grieve together’ and that’s why collective grief is forthcoming when such a well-known person dies. But Kessler also notes ‘we clearly know how to do public grief, so how come we’re not so good at our private grief?’ (ibid.).

Grief is a very personal experience. Some people are more comfortable with talking about it than others, but it’s still not something that we really talk about that much – and that’s why we don’t feel like we’re behaving ‘normally’ when it comes to our grief (Lyons and Winter, 2021). You may have found that the Queen’s death and coverage of events has been quite triggering over the past few weeks. It may have brought up feelings and emotions in terms of your own personal grief that you weren’t expecting – feelings about family members or friends who have died recently or even many years ago. If that is the case, try to remember that this is perfectly normal. That’s because grief isn’t linear, and you can experience any aspect of grief at different times (Cruse, 2022). 

What does grief look like?

You may find that for you, grief features some or all of the following:

  • Sadness or depression
  • Shock, denial or disbelief
  • Numbness
  • Panic and confusion
  • Anger or hostility
  • Feelings of overwhelm
  • Relief
  • Mixed feelings (Mind, 2019)

All of these feelings are completely normal. The relationship that you had with the person who died also has an impact on your experience of grief, as well as the support network around you and your previous experiences of grief (ibid.). 

The stages of grief and where to get support

Experts generally agree that we go through 4 stages of grief:

  1. Accepting that your loss is real
  2. Experiencing the pain of grief
  3. Adjusting to life without the person or thing you have lost
  4. Putting less emotional energy into grieving and putting it into something new (NHS, 2019)

 

Most people go through all of these stages, but this doesn’t always happen smoothly (ibid.). Kessler (2022b) adapted Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ 5 stages of dying for those in grief, and acknowledges that grief ‘is not linear’.  Knowing that this is the case, and that it is okay to feel whatever you are feeling, will hopefully help you to navigate your way through your grief and help you to process it whenever these feelings arise in the future. 

If you’re not sure how you feel, you can try the NHS mood self-assessment here. If you’re under 16, visit the Young Minds website for more information and support.

You can also get support from Cruse Bereavement Support, no matter how long you have been grieving. 

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References and further reading

Cruse (2022), ‘Understanding ‘Grief’ [online], Available from: https://www.cruse.org.uk/understanding-grief/ (Accessed 12/9/22).

Kessler, D. (2022a), ‘Public Grief’ [online], Available from: https://grief.com/public-grief2/ (Accessed 12/9/22).

Kessler, D. (2022b), ‘The Five Stages of Grief by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler’ [online], Available from: https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/ (Accessed 12/9/22).

Lyons, A. and Winter, L. ‘Why don’t we talk about death, dying and grief?’, [online] Available from: https://www.bigissuenorth.com/comment/2021/04/why-dont-we-talk-about-death-dying-and-grief/#close, (Accessed 12/9/22).

Mind (2019), ‘ What does grief feel like?’, [online], Available from: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/bereavement/experiences-of-grief/ (Accessed 12/9/22).

NHS (2019), ‘Grief after bereavement or loss’, [online], Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/feelings-symptoms-behaviours/feelings-and-symptoms/grief-bereavement-loss/ (Accessed 12/9/22).