Moving through grief
Puta ake i te pōuriuri

Coping strategies when experiencing loss.

What is grief?

When we lose someone or something that matters to us, there can be a difficult adjustment period as we go through the process of accepting the loss. Grief is usually associated with the death of loved one, but it can also result from the loss of a relationship, career or pet. The bigger the loss, the harder it can be to get over. Nevertheless, with time we are usually able to make this adjustment while finding ways to stay connected to the memory of what we lost.

Lucy Hone talks about her own grief and recovery

Common grief reactions we can experience

Dealing with grief

Losing someone we love can turn our life upside down, it can stress us out, and take lots of time and effort to get used to. The grieving process helps us to adjust to our new reality. So how can we help ourselves in times of grief?

  • Give yourself permission to grieve and feel the emotions that show up.
  • Grieve in your own way.
  • Accept that there will be emotional pain, and this is a reminder of your connection and aroha for what you have lost.
  • Expect moments of insensitivity from people.
  • Remember you are not alone.
  • Talk to others, including your whānau and colleagues, about what you are experiencing.
  • Create times and spaces to talk about the loss, such as memorials and rituals of connection.
  • Be honest with yourself and others about what you need.
  • Be gentle on yourself.
  • Allow yourself to enjoy life, and plan for chances to do that, even in small ways.
  • Keep decision making to a minimum for a good while.
  • Seek to understand grief, such as reading about or listening to podcasts on grief.
  • Consider seeing a grief counsellor. Defence chaplains and social workers can help you identify providers that might be a good fit.

What can I do about it?

There is no right or wrong way of dealing with grief, but there are things you can do to help you.

Get help from other people

Try to spend time with friends and family - people you care about. You don't have to talk about your loss if you don't want to, just being with other people can help. Work out a plan for how you can do that; maybe you can contact an old friend, organise to see a movie, have a coffee, or go to a sports game.

You might want to join a club or a church, or perhaps a support group with other people who are also grieving. Try to eat well and regularly, get plenty of rest, do some exercise every day, and cut down on alcohol and other drugs. You might be surprised what a difference this can make to the way you feel.

Give yourself time to reflect on your loss and how you are feeling

Don't try to block it out. Share your memories - both good and bad - with someone you trust, or try writing them down. You might want to write a letter to your loved one, or maybe make a scrapbook of photos. It's often good to do something constructive, like getting involved in a cause that was important to your loved one.

Plan for tomorrow

An important step to getting on with your life is planning what you will do today and tomorrow. Write a timetable for the day on a sheet of paper. try to build in work, exercise, a social activity, and some time alone (but not too much).

Include as many enjoyable things as possible. Doing things that you enjoy can lead to feelings of guilt or confusion, and it can be useful to remind yourself hat a moment of contentment does not mean you don't still miss the person. Step by step, this will help you to get your life back on track. 

Plan for the future

It might be hard to imagine now, but you do have a future. In the early stages of grief you may not be thinking rationally, so it's not a good idea to make major life decisions. But when you feel a bit better, start making plans and decisions, getting ready to move forward. This does not mean forgetting the person or thing you have lost. It means giving yourself permission to live your life, and you may even think on how the memory of them guides you as you do so.

It's normal for grief, particularly for people we were close to, to still show up for some time after the loss. For some people, grief appears stuck and they feel unable to adjust to the loss even after some years. This is what we call Complicated Grief, where the normal grieving and sadness continues to significantly interfere with a person's life, months and years after the loss. If you feel like this might be true for you, it can be useful to talk to a grief counsellor, chaplain or other support person. While there are similarities in the way people grieve, no one person grieves in the same way as another. Complicated Grief is more likely if the loss has come about in traumatic circumstances. Sometimes it can be linked to post traumatic stress disorder. 

People often have questions about their grief. Take a moment to read through the questions below and talk to your medical officer, GP, chaplain or therapist about these or other questions you may have. 


Getting help

If grief begins to interfere with your life over an extended period of time, grief counselling can be useful to try to help you come to terms with your reactions and how to manage them. Often there are blocks which get in the way of us recovering from the death of a loved one. Therapy can help you uncover and address these blocks, and help you to reconnect with and enjoying your life, while remembering and honouring the person you have lost. Therapy may be able to help you deal with what's happened in the past, to accept the death of your loved one, and start thinking about your future.

Reach out to your local social support network chaplains, marae, social worker and NZDF4U.

NZDF Bereavement booklet. If you have lost a service member you can ask to receive a copy of the NZDF Bereavement booklet which comprehensively details the administrative and financial considerations and entitlements for your loved one. Please request this from the chaplains or social worker.

Useful Resources

Below is a list of internet and other written resources that may be helpful in consultation with your doctor.