What does 'normal' grieving look like?

Common questions people ask about grief are “Is this normal?”, “Am I normal?” and “Is it normal to still feel like this?”

The answer to these questions is almost always, “Yes!” Losing someone close to you is a major life changing event. It can feel as though your life has been turned upside down, inside out, and all over the place at the same time. Grief is a process of emotional upheaval.

This upheaval can turn what is normal on its head. Things you would be concerned about if they happened in daily life, are all very normal responses to grief.

When you are grieving, it is normal to...

  • Have strong feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, and anxiety, and have strong swings in mood. Conversely in the early stages you can feel numb, switched off, like you are on autopilot.

  • Have a change in habits. You may drink more, smoke more, eat more (or less). Your sleeping habits can also change – you may feel tired and want to sleep, or you may become restless and finding sleeping difficult.

  • Feel more withdrawn than usual. Most people will have a period, where they will tend to avoid social occasions, being out, or meeting others. This can also be accompanied by feelings of anxiety.

  • Have memory problems, find it difficult to concentrate, or become more clumsy than usual.

  • Keep dwelling on events leading up to the person's death, while finding it difficult to remember happy memories.

  • Keep mementos of the person, such as pictures on the wall, or their room just the way it was.

  • Talk to the person who died, telling them your news, asking for advice, saying how much they are missed.

  • Feel that the person who died is still around. Often this is just a vague feeling. Some people report a feeling they were touched by the person; usually as a light brushing sensation. A few people have seen them as a brief shadowy form, usually out of the corner of their eye.

Everyone experiences grief differently, and you may experience some or all of the things I have listed. They do tend to diminish over time. How long this takes is very much an individual thing. Grief does not work to a timetable.

The last one on the list - feeling the presence of the person who died - can cause the most worry. They are thought to be a kind of hallucination, although you may prefer an alternative explanation. They are often brief, happen infrequently, and diminish with time.

When grieving, rather than asking "Is it normal to feel like this?" to which the answer is "Where you are right now, yes," a more useful question is, “ Do I need some help, so I can cope better with what I am going through?”

You might want to consider seeking additional help, if you are feeling stuck, or are feeling overwhelmed, and finding you are not coping with day to day life.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Eastleigh, Hampshire, SO50
Written by Mark Redwood, BA (Hons) Counselling
Eastleigh, Hampshire, SO50

I am a humanistic counsellor, which means I believe we are born with the potential to lead full and rewarding lives. Sometimes, we can get stuck and need some help to get going again. I have a BA (hons) in counselling. My experience includes working with young people, bereavement, anxiety, depression, and anger.

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