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Understanding Grief, Loss, and Bereavement

Resource Post Thumbnail Understanding Grieve Loss and Bereavement Understanding Grief, Loss and Bereavement

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Grief, Loss, and Bereavement

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Grief, Loss & Bereavement

A loss of a loved one is one of life’s most difficult experiences. Experiencing loss, grief, and bereavement is a natural part of life, making them an inevitable part of the human experience.

They are a complex and multi-layered process that involves many diverse emotions and behaviours. Bereavement, grief, and loss are inevitable truths in life. Death will always exist as long as there is life.

The loss of a loved one is accompanied by feelings of grief and secondary losses. At some point, everyone must deal with these harsh realities of life.

One of the most difficult things in life is losing a loved one; whether it is a spouse, parent, sibling, or dear friend.

The pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love; it is, perhaps, the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment.

 English psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes Tweet

We respond to grief differently depending on the nature and circumstances of the death, our relationship with the deceased, our cultural and religious experiences. All of these factors combine to make the grieving process unique.

In your journey through your grieving process, it is possible for you to learn how to carry the pain of grief while moving forward with your life. In order to cope with loss, grief and bereavement, you must understand how they affect your life.

We realise that this understanding of grief, loss, and bereavement isn’t just for people whose loved ones have passed away. In addition, it may also be helpful to those supporting someone who has been bereaved, such as friends and family.

In this guide you will find:

Frequently Asked Questions about Grief

Answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about grief.

What is Grief?

Grief is a natural response to loss. This loss is further classified as:

  1. Physical, which involves the loss of a loved one, i.e. spouse, parents, child, etc., or someone you shared a close bond with.
  2. Life events, such as divorce.
  3. Occupational, which involves losing your job or financial status, etc.

Someone going through grief may feel various difficult and unexpected emotions from shock, confusion, envy, anger, guilt, disbelief, and loneliness among others. The more significant the loss, the more profound your grief will be. 

This overwhelming emotional response can disrupt your physical well-being making it difficult to eat, sleep or even think clearly. In addition to an emotional response, grief manifests itself in behavioural, cognitive, physical, and social ways. 

Is There A Right Way to Grieve?

The grieving process is as unique as the person going through it, and there’s no right or wrong to grieve. How you choose to grieve depends on your personality, belief system, life experiences, and the significance of the loss. You may start feeling grief immediately after the loss or may not feel it for months or even years. 

Some people express their grief openly by crying and sharing their feelings, while others prefer to keep it to themselves and are reluctant to talk about their loss. This doesn’t mean they are not grieving; instead, they are just expressing their grief differently. Therefore, it is really important to be considerate and respectful towards each individual’s unique way of coping with grief and loss.

Does Grief Have a Purpose?

Grief can be an emotionally draining and crippling experience. This can cause you to crumble to the ground, eroding any mental, physical, and emotional strength you may possess.

Grief and mourning have therapeutic purposes in that they aim to prepare you for living with a loss in a healthful way, after you have made the necessary changes.

In addition to waking you up to pain, grief can also awaken your spirit. The physiological process of coping with your loss is called grief work that involves finding ways to get perspective and entwine your loss and experience you’ve gained from that loss into the fabric of your life.

Grieving empowers us to free up the energy bound to a lost person or object and re-invest it somewhere else.

What are the five stages of grief?

Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief have become synonymous with the grieving process since her work, On Death and Dying, was published in 1966. 

The five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) were never intended as a rigid concept that people should follow chronologically, but rather an evaluation of the effect impending death might have on that person.

Will I go through the all stages of grief?

Grief has no map or a specific route, making it familiar for everyone. Therefore, every bereaved person can go through the different stages of grief at different times and grieve the death of their loved one uniquely.

When will my grief end?

According to an unknown author: “Grief never ends. But it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith—it is the price of love.”

By taking a step each day, you keep transforming and learning how to live and cope with grief. Eventually, you learn to live with the grief and the loss you suffered becomes a part of you.

Does Grief Make Us Selfish?

The pain of losing a loved one, mourning their passing, and continuing to live life without them can be unbearable. During all this, a bereaved person is learning to relive life. 

Passengers on an airplane are advised to take care of themselves first when in an emergency. Likewise, when a loved one has died, you should take care of yourself first. 

Taking time to grieve is not selfish. Take the necessary steps to ensure you heal and learn to adjust to the new world without your loved one.

It’s possible that those not grieving might think of the bereaved person as selfish. The person, as a result, may be treated impatiently by the rest of the community, which prolongs the grieving process. 

Grief that is not addressed adequately can trap a bereaved person within an interminable circle of grief and prevent them from learning how to cope with the loss of a loved one. For them, this pain is their world and the world outside that pain is silent.

It is not uncommon for bereaved people to be rushed to move on after death. There is a lot to learn about normalising grief and making society more sensitive to death.

Can Grief Become Inconsolable?

When you are inconsolable, you are so sad or disappointed that it is impossible for anyone to make you feel better. The pain of grief is never gone, it only becomes easier to deal with. The pain of grief is never truly over.

You feel an emptiness that never goes away, but it becomes more tolerable as you take in the pain, face it, and cherish all the memories of your loved one so that you can move forward in life. As you move forward with your life, you learn to make your own, one without the one you lost.

Is it Possible to Die from Grief?

Yes, it’s possible that a person may die because of grief. Here, we can take the example of “the widowhood effect” to justify this.

The widowhood effect can be described as the increase in the probability of a person’s death soon after a loved spouse’s death. 

This shows a significant death risk for the widow/widower, particularly in the first three months of their loss. Losing a spouse and then dying shortly after has been termed “dying of a broken heart”. 

This heavy bereavement process makes a widow/widower go through many harsh steps alone that makes them vulnerable both physically and psychologically.

The grieving person is most likely to suffer from symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, loneliness, anger, and feelings of guilt. These psychological symptoms also place a heavy burden physically, and they become significantly more vulnerable. Many even attempt to use risky behaviours and suicide too.

Can Grief Cohabit with Happy Emotions?

One of the emotional experiences many grieving people may find vexing is that their feelings, thoughts, and needs occasionally seem to conflict with each other—for example, the feeling of being happy and sad at the same time.

However, when a person feels happy after the death of a loved one, it may bring feelings of guilt along. This approach is related to the false belief that a person can only feel one emotion at a time, while in reality, the human brain can simultaneously feel various emotions.

Grief forces emotions to co-exist more than any other experience. It can cohabit with happiness and other emotions without replacing each other or cancelling one out. Grief starches your heart and creates enough space to accommodate all your desires and emotions alongside each other, which means that you don’t have to choose between grieving the past or moving forward in the present.

Is Grief a Sign of Weakness?

Grief is not a sign of weakness but rather the best response to the loss of something important. Grieving is necessary and can be seen as the first step towards healing.

The grieving process follows after every loss we encounter, and if we don’t allow ourselves to grieve properly, it can lead to severe mental and physical issues. It’s important to identify your grief and allow it to run its course to release yourself from its grip.

Feeling the painful emotions and allowing the feelings of grief to have enough room inside you is not a sign of weakness but a sign of a strength that will help you let go of them (emotions).

What is the Difference between Grief, Sorrow and Sadness?

Grief can be defined as “Love’s unwillingness to let go”. It’s a natural reaction to loss and all the emotions that burst because of the shock are all the natural reactions to such a heart aching tragedy. 

Grief has no timeline and its intensity also varies. Grief changes you and it becomes difficult to be the same person before your grief.

Sadness is an emotion that takes place in the “now” state. When you watch a movie, and you cry, or you feel sad, that’s sadness, and you get over it in an instant. It goes away in an instant, unlike grief.

Sorrow can also be used alongside grief, as it also depicts excellent emotional pain. The word sorrow is used to describe feelings such as loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by the person.

Does Action help process Grief?

Yes, a potential healthy grieving mechanism is “Action”. Now, what does action imply? 

We can describe this action as the will to endure pain and not run away from grief or absorb all the feelings that come in the path of grieving your loved one’s death. 

This action can also be referred to as taking help or doing things  to make peace with your pain. An action also specifies how you handle yourself physically to cope with grief using exercise or other methods.

Grief is a treacherous journey filled with emotions and memories of our loved one, where facing pain is necessary, and the more we love the person, the more intense our grief will be. If we run away or try to shut our grief, it will only result in more complications like incomplete grief.

Does Grief Have a Stage in Which You Cannot Cry?

Crying is the outward expression of the pain and yearning that we feel for the loved one. 

Some of the reasons a person may not cry include but not limited to are:

  1. There isn’t a powerful bond between you and the lost person. 
  2. Shock of trauma leaves the person numb. 

The lack of tears does not mean that the bereaved person is not in intense pain and distress. When you feel nothing, the world becomes confusing and, soon after the death of a loved one, this numbness makes it more disturbing as you expect to feel so much.

So, crying out your pain is very important as the state of being “cried out” signifies that the healing process has begun and is near the acceptance phase.

Grief activates a mixture of different emotions in a person based on a person’s shock or the circumstances of the loved one’s death. 

One of these emotions is numbness or feeling devoid of everything or every emotion. This emotion of feeling nothing may be described as Anhedonia.

Anhedonia refers to the loss of interest in everything and being numb or emotionally feeling nothing. 

You may begin to ask yourself questions like: Why am I not able to cry like the others?, Why can’t I express my pain, grief?. 

This feeling of numbness and being devoid of any emotion is a natural response to the shock of grief. But if this numbness prolongs, then please seek professional help to enable you to grieve properly.

What are the consequences of not grieving?

Grief is our natural way of healing from a traumatic loss, specifically the death of a loved one. If the grief process gets halted, it affects your mental and physical health. 

It will keep interfering with your day-to-day tasks and your mental capacity to perform any healthy activity. A negative cycle will keep you stuck from moving forward.

How Can You Recognise Incomplete Grief

We can recognise incomplete grief through some common symptoms:

  1. Sudden bursts of anger/irritability: Being annoyed or getting railed up over slight issues that wouldn’t bother you usually. This is a sign of all the pent-up grief hiding within you.
  2. Obsessiveness/emotional rewind: Being obsessed with the death of the loved one, the events that followed that death, are part of normal grieving. But if the obsession prolongs and the person can’t move on from the emotional rewind, this stage symbolises incomplete grief.
  3. Always expecting the worse: After the traumatic experience, it becomes a sort of anxiety or a very heightened fear that something worse will happen to your loved ones.
  4. Overreaction: It’s normal grieving after a trauma, a person prepares himself/herself for future sadness, but those suffering from incomplete grief move to two extremes;
  1. Relying totally on someone to console the pain of the lost loved one. 
  2. Pushing everyone away from themselves.
  1. Adopting Self Harming behaviours: Everyone has their unique capacity to grieve their loss. Some can handle it, and after going through healthy grief, they learn to accept their loss. But some use alcohol, drugs, and other means to comfort themselves, which leads only to self-harm.
  2. Complete Numbness: Pulling the shutter down on the grief results in a numb, empty feeling. This feeling doesn’t symbolise that the grief is over; rather, it is being avoided, which affects the individual’s life by having no will to do anything.

What we have once enjoyed we can never lose; all that we deeply love becomes a part of us.

Frequently Asked Questions about Grieving

Answers to FAQs about grieving

Why Do We Grieve?

When we lose someone precious, whether it’s the end of a relationship or the death of a loved one, it leaves a hole in our hearts and alters our lives forever. When we grieve, we hold those memories tightly to help us fill that gap in our hearts. We generally grieve for two reasons:

  1. First, we grieve simply because we loved the person wholeheartedly, and we treasured their presence. It is really difficult to love someone so deeply, knowing that loss is unavoidable in all relationships, and our time here is limited. 
  2. Secondly, we grieve for ourselves for being deprived of a loved one and the life we lived and enjoyed in which they played an integral part. 

Other than death, people can grieve all sorts of reasons. There 40 life experiences that can trigger grief including a change in their health or a loved one, changes in relationships including friendships, divorce, breakup, losing a job, or changes in the life we live.

Is It Normal to Grieve?

After experiencing a loss, it’s normal to grieve, and most people go through it. However, adjusting to the new reality of life is not easy and takes time. It is highly dependent on the bereaved, their bond with the deceased, secondary triggers, coping style, and support system.

The grieving process provides the opportunity to acknowledge your loss, properly mourn it, and speed up the healing process by finding support and allowing time for grief to complete its course. The grieving process eases the pain and sadness with time, and the bereaved eventually learn to live with their grief. 

However, when grief starts to take over your life and produce feelings of hopelessness, despair, worthlessness, and self-hatred, consult your doctor to differentiate between what’s normal and what’s not. 

Is Grieving a Form of Stress?

The stress and grief go side by side. Stress levels can increase dramatically after the death of someone dear. Chronic stress is common during acute grief, which is the initial period after the loss that dominates the life of a bereaved person and causes a variety of physical and emotional stress, including anxiety, depression, bitterness, loss of appetite, and pain. 

Chronic stress occurs when the body remains in a constant state of psychological arousal and does not have a chance to activate a relaxation response. Chronic stress can last for an extended period of time and can take a toll on a person’s ability to function normally. 

The most common source of stress is conflict, alienation, an individual’s belief that they lack the resources to cope with the loss. Internal conflict also leads to stress where grievers experience conflicting thoughts and emotions and are often ill-equipped to deal with the battle going inside their mind.

This depends on the country, time zones, and cause of death. If the cause of death was natural, it can take anything between 5-7 days for the body to arrive in the UK.

However if they died under suspicious circumstances, or perhaps an accident, death will need to be investigated, post- mortem conducted – where the body may be held by police.

In these cases repatriation can take 10-15 days or even up to 3 months to complete.

Is Crying A Good Way to Grieve?

Crying is considered an important part of the grieving process, and for many people, you cannot grieve without crying.

Our personality plays a significant role in how we express and cope with our grief. Crying definitely helps with the grieving process as it releases hormones, including cortisol which accumulates in our bodies and causes extreme emotional and physical stress.

Hormonal release causes a sense of calm; that’s why most people feel better after crying. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, a natural painkiller and helps reduce pain and triggers positive feelings. 

However, crying is not a measure of grieving, and it’s possible to grieve without crying. Grieving is a highly individual experience, and every person has a different tendency to cry or respond to the grief.

If you can’t shed a flood of tears, that doesn’t mean you’re bad or insensitive. What matters is to express yourself in a way that’s consistent with your personality.

Is It Okay to Suppress Your Emotions When Grieving?

Suppressing your emotions while grieving doesn’t make them go away and can negatively affect your long-term health. Suppressing emotions is usually referred to as experiential avoidance, an attempt to reduce, and block out the unpleasant thoughts and emotions that are perceived as painful and bring traumatic memories of the deceased.  

Numerous studies conducted over the past few decades have shown that suppressing your emotions, whether sadness, anger, or frustration, can affect your mind and body.

Harvard School of Public Health and University of Rochester researchers discovered in 2013 that people who suppress their emotions have a higher risk of premature death by more than 30%, and the risk of getting cancer is about 70%. Moreover, it can cause physical stress, leading to high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and memory problems.

Is There A Difference Between Grief and Grieving?

Grief is the natural response you have to a loss of something or someone important to you. However, the loss is not always related to death but can also refer to the loss of cognitive or physical abilities or something you were accustomed to having in your life, such as a job. 

On the other hand, grieving is the process of going through an emotional adjustment after the loss. Grieving is a highly personal experience and significantly varies from person to person. There is no set time limit for grieving, and it depends on the nature of the loss and your personality.

What are the Common Roadblocks when Grieving?

A “grief roadblock” can be described as certain emotions or complicated actions that act as a barricade in healthy grieving. Such emotions include guilt, anger, envy, bitterness among others.

After the death of a loved one, we may come across feelings of pent-up anger, regrets from all the experiences and guilt that may halt accepting the loss of your loved one and moving forward with grief. 

All these emotions are a natural reaction to your loss and everyone grieves differently based on their experience:

  1. Anger: starts in the very early stages of grief because of the heart-aching experience, as one looks for reasons as to why this happened. One expresses his anger, emotions, pent-up suffering on the lost loved one, family members or God and religion.
  2. Guilt/depression: The feeling of not being there for the loved one or not being able to spend time with him/her etc. These feelings of remorse combined with the memories leach onto your heart as you keep grieving, thinking about what you should have done.

Acceptance is the key to life; know that loss, grief and bereavement are inevitable. So, accept your emotions, go easy on yourself and live the life you dreamt of living with your spouse, mother, father, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mourning

Answers to mourning FAQs

What Is Mourning?

Mourning goes along with grief and can be described as an outward expression of grief in public. Therefore, it is considered respectful to undergo the rituals of mourning after someone dies to show they care.

There is no specific guide for mourning, and the process can vary depending on  religious beliefs, cultural customs, and ethnic backgrounds. However, some examples of the mourning rituals include wearing black colour, seeing relatives and family, sharing stories about the deceased, funeral and burial preparations, and final separation.

What Is the Proper Period of Mourning?

There is no particular time limit for mourning. The amount of time you spend in mourning depends on the type of the loss, the depth of your grief, and your ability to process and cope with the loss.

Mourning can last for months or even years, and the grieving process can be affected by your age, beliefs, personality, and support system. Some religions have prescribed specific mourning periods and approaches, while others do not.

How long does it take to stop mourning a loved one? What is the average length of grief?

The process of coping with the loss of a loved one is difficult, and since everyone’s grief is unique, everyone’s feelings vary over time.

Grief has no time frame of how long it should last or how it should feel at a certain point in time. For example, one may feel as if it happened yesterday, or it may seem as if it happened a lifetime ago!

You will always hold in your heart the memories, emotions, and feelings of the person who was once part of your life. As these emotions become a part of us, we learn to live with them and grow with them.

How long does it take to stop mourning a loved one? What is the average length of grief?

The process of coping with the loss of a loved one is difficult, and since everyone’s grief is unique, everyone’s feelings vary over time.

Grief has no time frame of how long it should last or how it should feel at a certain point in time. For example, one may feel as if it happened yesterday, or it may seem as if it happened a lifetime ago!

You will always hold in your heart the memories, emotions, and feelings of the person who was once part of your life. As these emotions become a part of us, we learn to live with them and grow with them.

What is the Difference between Mourning and Grieving?

These terms are used interchangeably by many people, despite having a critical difference.

Grieving is a response to bereavement, which arises when someone dear to you dies and changes the way one behaves typically. It is associated with the thoughts and feelings following the loss, and mourning is how those feelings and emotions of grieving are displayed in the public.

Though grief and mourning are represented differently, both are the corresponding parts of the healing process. Grief is like a container storing all your emotions, feelings and visual memories of the trauma. Grief is a personal experience and has an internal meaning to the experience of loss. 

Mourning can be described as “grief gone public” or the external manifestation of grief. We also associate it with various rituals performed in each different culture or religion. Whilst Grief is universal, it is also unique. Each bereaved person has their way of grieving the death of their loved one. 

The intensity of grief also varies based on our bond with the lost loved one, circumstances of his/her death. The greater the pain, the more your life becomes altered.

Frequently Asked Questions about Bereavment

Answers to bereavement related FAQs

What is Bereavement?

Bereavement is the period after a death or social loss during which grief and mourning happen. The duration of bereavement depends on the level of attachment with a person and the circumstances of the loss. 

Bereavement is not always tied to the losses due to death, but you may experience it for other significant losses that can have a long-term impact on your emotional and psychological well-being. For example, Loss of a relationship due to breakup or divorce, getting fired from the job, or shifting house, etc.

What is the Difference between Bereavement and Grieving?

One of the most significant differences between grieving and bereavement is the difference in time and emotion.

Bereavement is time-related and starts right from the moment you suffer the loss, and your emotional reaction is manifested in the form of grieving. You may not experience grief immediately after hearing about the loss, but your bereavement period has already begun.

Bereavement ends when the early phase of grief and mourning ends, and there’s a shift in a person’s emotional state after the bereavement period ends. While grieving is a long-lasting process; and a person can grieve for months or even years.

How do Bereavement, Grieving, and Mourning Differ and how are they similar?

Bereavement, grieving, and mourning are closely related and follow shortly after the loss. All these terms are often used synonymously, but they have different meanings. The difference is the internal and external nature of the processes.

Bereavement Grieving Mourning

Bereavement is the duration after the loss in which grieving and mourning take place.

Bereavement is the duration after the loss in which grieving and mourning take place.

Bereavement is the duration after the loss in which grieving and mourning take place.

Bereavement starts right from the moment you suffer loss, and your response is displayed in the form of grieving.

Grieving is a long-lasting process, and that lasts for months or even years.

Mourning can last for months or even years, influenced by the griever’s age, beliefs, personality, and support system.

Bereavement reactions include initial shock, apathy, anger, disbelief, blame, and finally, acceptance of the truth.

Grieving reactions include feelings of shock, denial, yearning, sadness, anger, anxiety, and helplessness.

Mourning is expressed through some rituals such as wearing black clothes, seeing relatives, talking about the deceased, funeral and burial preparations, and final separation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Complicated Grief

What is complicated grief or bereavement?

Whilst grief is a normal reaction to such a heart-aching loss, some people face a more substantial and prolonged level of grief known as complicated grief/bereavement.

Complicated grief is considered when the individual’s capacity to resume daily activities and duties is continuously affected after six months of bereavement.

Six months is regarded as the right point for consideration of complicated grief, as research shows that most people can now incorporate bereavement into their lives by this time.

What are the symptoms of complicated grief?

Complicated grief/bereavement may have some same symptoms as depression:

  1. Intense sorrow, pain over the loss of your loved one.
  2. Not able to accept that your loved one is dead.
  3. Grief gets worse day by day.
  4. Numbness and feeling that your life has no meaning.
  5. Being stuck in the moments of your loved one’s death or memories.
  6. Depression, self-guilt, and sadness.
  7. Isolation and not being able to trust others.
  8. Recurring suicidal thoughts.

How do you deal with complucated grief?

Please contact your local GP or call 111 as soon as possible if you believe that your experience is complicated grief. You may also check other bereavement support charities that may help you.

If not adequately dealt with, complicated grief, unbearable grief, and depression can lead to emotional damage, significant health risks, and even suicide.

FAQ about Supporting Someone Who is Grieving

Is it okay to give money to a grieving person?

It is perfectly okay to support the grieving person financially. The death of a loved one, especially the death of a spouse, has a significant financial impact on the bereaved spouse who has to learn to adjust to the loss of family source of income. 

Here are some gracious ways to hand that money to the grieving family or person.

  1. Start a fundraising campaign.
  2. Contribute towards the funeral costs.
  3. You can also give gift vouchers to the family in need. This can help them with food, clothes, etc., to fulfil the necessities.
  4. You can also help by contributing towards their living expenses such as house rent, utilities, child care costs etc. 

Are there any practical ways to help a grieving friend or family member?

You can offer other practical supports to the bereaved too. It’s about knowing your capability, availability and creating a network of support that offers help in varied shapes and forms.

  • You may consider if the help needed is within your skillset and if not but you still want to support your grieving friend or family member, then consider outsourcing the help (e.g. cleaning, gardening, etc)
  • The practical support to offer can could be grouped into two categories:
    • One time support
    • Ongoing or long-haul support

So, pay attention to the situation and act accordingly. Consider all the circumstances and the position of grieving people and then act accordingly.

Conclusion

Within this information resource on understanding grief, loss, and bereavement, we covered the most frequently asked questions regarding loss, grief, and coping. Also included were sections on the effects of unhealthily grieving, the reasons for grieving properly, and stages of grief.

By providing you with information about grief, loss, and bereavement, we hope to make the difficult journey you have found yourself on a little less difficult.

We encourage you to sail through your grief process, gaining strength to become more in control over your grief, loss, and bereavement.

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