How to cope when grief comes in waves

Grief comes in waves of intense pain that is very hard to bear. So if you’ve found this article because you’re suffering through a loss, then I am so sorry! Even though we all know that loss is a certainty in our lives, we’re never really prepared for it. 

A force of nature

Grief comes like a tsunami, a huge earthquake or a terrible car crash. It changes the landscape of your life and turns your world upside down, but the damage it leaves is invisible. 

Grief doesn’t necessarily refer only to the loss of a person. It may come about as the result of all kinds of loss. Your grief may be over the loss of your pet, or related to a breakup of a relationship (romantic or otherwise). You may be experiencing grief that’s about a big relocation to a different city or country, or some other major change in your life. You  experience grief if you’re diagnosed with some kind of serious illness or disease. Or if you’ve suffered some kind of disabling injury. 

In this article, I’ll briefly discuss the common themes of grief. Then I’ll explain the 5 stages of grief that you may have heard mentioned, but not really know that much about. I hope that reading this article will help you to make sense of what you’re experiencing, and help you to being to process your pain and loss. 

A bubble of grief

Grief is frequently a terrible, tearing pain. It squeezes your heart in an iron fist and sits like an elephant on your chest. It takes away your appetite or makes you eat too much. It makes everything seem grey, and it takes away your joy. You might not be able to concentrate, think clearly, or make decisions. You might feel like your grief puts you inside a grief-bubble, that traps you and separates you from the world so that everything feels surreal. 

At other times you may feel like it’s all too real, everything is too loud and too overwhelming and you feel exposed and fragile. Sometimes you can’t separate yourself from your emotions and you feel like a puppet on the end of grief-strings. Maybe your body aches, and your legs feel heavy. Perhaps you even wish that you could die too. 

You might feel numb and unable to cry even though you really want to. You might feel like you’re cut off and separated from your own pain. Or maybe you just can’t stop crying, as if your tears flow from an endless well of pain. Or perhaps you don’t really feel anything. Or you just feel numb.

The effect your grief has on others

Your depth and intensity of grief might shock other people, even those close to you, or it might shock yourself. Others might not recognise the person you have become, because some things fundamentally change when you go through grief. Your entire world has changed, so you change too. Your values might change and you might care about completely different things now.

It is common to want to hold on to the pain, because you fear that letting it go is also letting go of the love you felt. It’s as if your pain somehow connects you to the person you loved. 

All of these are part of the normal range of grief responses, and if this is your experience, know that that is ok. There’s no correct way to grieve. Grief doesn’t fit neatly into a segment of time, either. Even though grief is a human experience, it’s highly individual. It’s important to give yourself permission to process your grief in your own time and in your own way. 

The stages of grief

The 5 stages of grief are Denial; Bargaining; Anger (and a lot of guilt usually accompanies both the bargaining and the anger stages); Sadness or Depression; and lastly, Acceptance. These 5 stages aren’t a separate and linear process that you’ll go through in a neat and orderly fashion. It’s much better to understand them as occurring all together. If you think of the waves in a stormy ocean, rising and falling, Grief comes in waves. Intensely painful waves that rise up and fall as if part of a stormy ocean. 

Success Formula: How to understand the 5 stages when grief comes in waves


The first stage of grief is Denial, and it’s often denial that triggers a wave of pain. For example, when you can’t believe the person is gone. Maybe you started to text the person that is gone. Maybe you remembered an appointment that you needed to make with them, maybe you reach over to touch them in bed. You have these thoughts and do these things because you haven’t fully processed the loss. When you realise that the person you lost isn’t here and won’t ever come back, the wave is triggered.


The second stage of grief is Bargaining, as you move from denial into “if only” thoughts. Usually related to what you should have done more of or less of. You might even wish that you could give up your life instead, that if only you could have been taken. These bargaining thoughts are often accompanied with lots of guilt because you are human and imperfect and of course you made mistakes. But when you are in a place of grief, it’s common to be hard on yourself and blame yourself for all kinds of things. The wave builds momentum.


The third stage of grief is Anger. I see anger as the emotion at the top of the wave as it peaks. You might be angry at God or the Universe, you might be angry at other people or with yourself. You might even be angry at the person who’s gone because you feel abandoned. Or because you think or imagine that there was something they could have done differently so they’d still be alive. You might be angry at everyone and everything. 

Sadness and depression

The fourth stage is as the wave breaks into deep Sadness and Depression. You might feel grief stricken, lonely, hopeless,  and lost. 


If you acknowledge all these feelings and allow yourself to feel them, even though it hurts so badly, the wave will slowly calm down and slow down into the fifth stage of grief, which is Acceptance. Maybe there is a sense of understanding of the loss as a reality that is permanent. Maybe you find enough strength inside yourself to continue. This acceptance lasts for a while. It may be only temporary or even just momentary, but there is a kind of space before the next wave rises.

Rising above the turmoil

You may never completely heal from grief, but the spaces between the waves of pain do get longer over time. At the beginning of the grieving process, the waves come quickly and may feel almost continuous. This period may last days, weeks, months or even longer depending on the specific person and while it lasts, the waves can feel overwhelming. 

Grief comes in waves. But even if the waves don’t get less intense, they do become further and further apart as time puts distance between you and the loss. The first year is generally understood to be the most difficult to navigate, because there are so many reminders of the loss.

If you are going through grief right now, or have experienced the way in which grief comes in waves, then please leave me a message and let me know how you have in the past, or are currently dealing with your grief.

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