Select language:  
1800 620 420
Close menu

Your questions answered: grief and loss

In this Q&A, counsellor, Trish Wilson, was asked to share her experience and knowledge to answer some of the most asked questions around grief and loss. 

Trish Wilson
Counsellor, Trish Wilson, has a Master in Health Studies and specialises in grief and loss

Q. He was the love of my life. How will I ever be able to move forward?  

A. Of course, when we love and our hearts are broken in grief, it is hard to imagine what the future holds. This goes back to some of the societal pressure people have, to move on or move forward in grief, and sometimes that pressure is too great for people who are grieving. Some of that is because other people feel uncomfortable around grieving people. It’s that idea of, “well, gosh, we’ve said all the things we can say, and we’ve given them all this support for the last six weeks or two months… when are they going to get over it?”. While I hesitate to suggest that moving forward is a requirement, often there is a point for people when the burden of grief becomes so tiresome and they themselves say, “actually, I’m ready to move forward. I want to move forward”. 

The thing that it’s important for people to realise is… you can move forward without forgetting. And you don’t have to leave your memories and your connection to that loved one behind. You take them with you. Part of the art of grief is learning how to move forward and take the essence of that love relationship with you in a way that now makes sense. So it’s often the art of paradox I think, of how can you do two things which are a little bit counter-intuitive or a little bit opposite. So, moving forward, but hanging on in a way that now seems right. That idea of acknowledging that if someone is the love-of-your-life, that they will be the love-of-your-life forever. 

You may meet someone in the future that you can love as well. But it won’t take away the fact that there still always will be a love connection with someone if they have been the love of your life. And some people who have married or lived with the love-of-their-life for 30 or 40 or 50 years, they often don’t want to move into new relationships. A woman I’m working with has no intention, at 62, of marrying again because she lived with the love of her life. For her, moving forward is about creating a new life as an older, single woman. 

Q. My doctor wants to put me on medication to help me with grief. I don’t like to take medications, what should I do? (It is three months since their loved one passed) 

A. Thinking about the role of medication in someone who’s grieving, it’s important this decision is made in a very well-informed way and quite consciously, and that it’s not a decision that’s rushed into. We expect the first three to six months of grief as being quite intense, and people experience a lot of physical symptoms as well as emotional and social and relational adjustments. They can have headaches and not sleep properly, and have aching body parts, and things like that. So it could be quite intense. For that small group of people who might have ‘complicated grief’ (which Trish touched on in an Expert Series interview, if the complication of that grief is that someone already has depression or anxiety, then they experienced a significant loss. And, for those people, being on an antidepressant probably is a relatively good choice, but one that they would want to talk through with their doctor. For someone experiencing ‘normal grief’, going on an antidepressant might be a wrong decision because of the effect of antidepressants which is often is to numb emotion to a great extent and they work by lifting the mood. What that means is often people can function and cope but if they then, at six months or 12 months, want to come off that medication, if they haven’t had that opportunity to really process their grief, then they often go back to the starting point. The best advice is to take great care about going on medication, to really talk it through, and not to see antidepressants as a quick fix to grief, because they certainly aren’t. 

Q. My daughter is getting married in July. It is going to be so hard for everyone. What can I do to help myself and her? (The wedding is six months after her husband’s death) 

A. Occasions like weddings or the birth of a new child in the family – those types of events – are times of great joy, when families come together, and there’s a real desire to be able to celebrate. On the other side, if you’ve just recently lost a loved one, or even if it’s a bit of time since the loss of that loved one, these people can be quite torn… “how can I experience joy but also honour the loss of this person?” Loyalty comes in here a little bit because there are some people who just feel guilty if they’re happy again. That’s a very common thing that I find in grief, and it’s often quite transient because people actually realise that it’s okay to laugh again. 

The first few times when someone hears themselves laughing or being joyous again, they often judge themselves and can be quite critical… “how can I be happy when my heart is so broken?” This is one of those things where I encourage people to learn to live with paradox. We can do two things at once. We can feel happy and sad, often in the same moment. So, it’s just permission to be able to do that.  

It is important, at those major life events, to not be silent about that person who’s missing. So, at a family wedding where a daughter is getting married and who has lost her dad 18 months, two years, even five years ago; how will her dad still be acknowledged as part of her wedding day? We traditionally think about brides being walked up the aisle by their dads, and sometimes their mums too. So, how might you be able to create some ritual that’s there? It might be carrying something or wearing something or acknowledging their dad’s name. And in the speeches, not to be afraid of talking about him and sharing some of the beautiful memories. We know young people grieve at the time of the loss. As they grow up, they go into a new developmental stage where they understand the world and experience it in a different way, so they actually have to re-grieve that loss. 

So often for young people, when they’ve lost their dad at a younger age, one of the times they re-grieve is at these significant times like graduation or wedding days, because they have to  acknowledge… “this was a day that I would have wanted my dad to be very much a part of”. Dealing with some of those emotions before the wedding day is a good idea, and having spoken about it, having some ritual in place helps to put the grief into a place for the day, so it doesn’t overwhelm the happiness of the occasion. 

Q. People think I’m doing very well, but I’m not! I want to scream… you have no idea! How do I handle this? 

A. Some people will want to grieve well. They put that sort of pressure on themselves, particularly perfectionists, because they want to do everything well in the world and grieving is no exception. So people will often portray that they’ve got their life together and that they’re doing okay. Sometimes, that is just a mask and that’s not how the person is really feeling on the inside. But there are situations when people have to do that. If you’re a mum with a young family, for example, you can’t be losing it all over the place, so you have to put on a good face to get on with life and to get on with parenting the children. 

Others will often look at people like that and say, “wow, you’re doing so well, I can’t believe how strong you are”. And people will frequently reply, “I don’t have an option. I have to be strong, but some days I wish I could just let people see how broken I am”. So, for some people, just being able to ask them, “how are you doing really? You look like you’re so strong but is that how it is every day?”. Because often, at three o’clock in the morning, the situation is completely different. Some people will get really frustrated with the expectations of other people. Our communities aren’t as comfortable with grieving people over time. They want them to get better quickly. So there’s a bit of pressure for people to be strong and to get on with it and know we don’t really think that it’s okay for people to stay in bed for a whole day. But sometimes that might be what people need. 

I find grieving people often educate other people about what grief is like. So being able to talk openly and honestly, perhaps not with everyone, but with important people… by saying, “this grief is really tough. You see me like this now, but on other days, I’m really broken”. One mum said to me once, “people say they don’t talk about the fact that I’ve lost a child because they don’t want to upset me”. And she said, “my life is upset. I am upset every day because my child is not with me. Those people aren’t that powerful that they can upset me. So, get off that idea”. She also said, “I want to talk about my child, even if it means that I cry, because my tears are liquid love. That’s the expression of the love that I have for my child”. 

Q. My wife has been gone 18 months and now I feel that maybe I can start a new relationship again, but I haven’t dated in 30 years. What can/should I do?  

A. For people who have lost their partners, particularly those who may have been together for many, many years, there’s a great loneliness in being single. Some people deal with it quite well, but quite often others have a yearning for companionship. For them, the idea of being prepared to get out there and enter the dating world again can be a daunting experience. They may not have dated someone for 20 or 30 years, and the rules of engagement have changed significantly in that time. 

It’s a very personal choice, and it’s often an important one to take some time to prepare yourself for, because once you’ve experienced a significant loss, you have a certain vulnerability. And we know that dating is often a process of rejection. You have to be ready for that, and you won’t necessarily meet someone you’re compatible with initially, so having some good friends and support around is important. Sometimes people choose not to tell their kids about this stuff because they could be quite judgmental. This is a very private decision that people make and that should be respected if that’s the case.  

We do know the world of dating websites can be a dangerous place, so take a bit of caution and great care if connecting with people in online venues. But it often is lovely to be able to connect with someone and just to feel that aliveness of the connection with another human being as well. Because that’s one of the things that’s often so missed. And it doesn’t mean that you didn’t love the person who has died, and people can be quite judgmental in that.  

My experience is that men more often will get into a relationship more quickly than women. I don’t know fully the reason why it happens, but it seems more men get into relationships and marry again quicker. But there are lots of reasons why people might enter into a new relationship. It might be that you need someone to help co-parent because that’s a really lonely and tough existence. And then, for the children themselves to actually have someone else in their lives, a secure person for them, not to replace their mum, but to be able to be another secure adult. We know, particularly for those little people in their first five years of life, that secure attachment is so important.  

The other thing that often goes with dating is reconnecting to someone in an intimate relationship, and that in itself can be quite a challenge. If you’ve been making love to the same person for 30 years and then you lose that person, entering into a new physical relationship often puts pressure on them. They say, “my body doesn’t look as hot as it was 30 years ago when I was dating”. It’s actually quite a normal part of recreating that new life, of getting back into the world, and learning to feel alive again.  

Are you experiencing grief and loss and have a question you would like answered? Email your question to for one of our grief and bereavement support staff to assist you with an answer.   

Last updated on July 13th, 2021

Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.