House of Memory: 5 things you need to know about grief

6 September 2021

IHF is proud to part-fund The House of Memory installation at Galway International Arts Festival, 1-18 September.

Architecture at the Edge invites the public to share their personal experience of loss and grief during the pandemic. Viewers are offered a platform to lament that loss within the structure by leaving a memento or a short-written message in remembrance and as a symbol of hope for the future.

Pre-Book A Free Ticket to visit the House of Memory

We need to talk about Grief

By Irish Hospice Foundation

Death and grief are always with us but they’ve been our constant companion this past 18 months.

We’ve been grappling with daily death figures and stories of devasting loss since March 2020. While the end is nearly in sight, the devouring shadow cast by the trauma of COVID-19 will continue to envelope many of us for a long time to come.

If you’re grieving or supporting someone who’s bereaved, it’s been a particularly harrowing time with so many of the ways we come together and show our grief upended.

For many of us in Ireland, coming together for wakes and funerals is an intrinsic part of our lives and communities. Although necessary, the ongoing restrictions have added another crushing layer of helplessness to the weight of continued uncertainty.

With this new harsh spotlight on grief, how do we make room for the myriad of experiences of loss and bring comfort to ourselves and those who need care in grief right now?

The starting point may well be to re-examine our own understanding of what it means to grieve.

What is grief?

It’s the natural process of reaction and adjustment to loss and change.

When we lose someone or something important to us, we grieve.

Every significant loss challenges us to find ways of coping with the upheaval that absence brings. This doesn’t mean we put the loss behind us, rather, we now have to adjust to a life without that person or thing that meant so much to us.

For most of us, the death of someone close will be the biggest loss we face. Your own grief journey is to try and make sense of what’s happened and learn to live with loss.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve

We are all novices when it comes to grief and there is no right way to ‘do it’. No two people’s reactions will be the same.

You might feel sad, numb, angry, relieved, guilty, lonely, depressed, frightened or helpless. These feelings can also come and go and don’t follow any particular sequence. You may feel more tired than usual yet find it hard to sleep. It’s normal to have very vivid dreams. Your appetite might change and your concentration may be dull.

Although you know the person has died, you may ‘forget’ it briefly, particularly when you wake up. You might imagine you see or have contact with the person who died. These thoughts can be overwhelming or frightening at times.

You may find you need time alone or a need to tell the story of your loss many times over. Seek out people who can understand your need to talk and distance yourself from people who are uncomfortable with this.

There are not five stages of grief

Grief doesn’t happen in a set way. It’s not like having the flu, where you feel ill and then begin to feel a bit better until you finally return to being your old self again. The feelings and thoughts of grief come and go in waves.

Sometimes you may feel you’re coping well and then experience a burst of grief when you’re reminded of your loss. It can be confusing to suddenly feel angry, for example, if you feel you’ve already ‘gotten over’ anger.

How we experience grief and loss depends on many different things

Even for the same person, no two losses are experienced in the same way for a number of reasons.

One factor is the nature of a relationship which may have been particularly close like if a child has died. We also can and do grieve relationships that were difficult or strained; death robs us of the chance to ever reconcile.

Another thing to consider is the nature of the death. People may die in sudden, tragic or violent circumstances or following a longer illness. A sudden or unexpected death can leave unfinished business, guilt and regret. A person may find themselves fixated on the time or manner of death. It’s so important to ‘cut ourselves some slack’ if this is the case, try and be gentle and forgiving. Even if a death is expected, there can still be difficulty adjusting to life without the person.

A third factor is the degree of stress and pressure in a person’s existing day-to-day life. People under financial pressure, those who experience work stress or relationship troubles may find the loneliness of bereavement even more difficult.

Finally, it’s important to state that some aspects of our lives help in bereavement – if we have good friends and family, offers of practical help as well as social support, these will all help. A death can change our perspective on living and shift priorities.

It can be an irony, but a welcome one, that we grow through grief.

There is no time limit to grief, it takes the time it takes

Grieving can be a lifetime adjustment, with some feelings coming back many times. You also find you feel a ‘dip’ around important dates like anniversaries and birthdays.

You’ll find that your grief is less intense and eases over time. That doesn’t mean you’re over your grief but you’re finding a way

Although it may be difficult to imagine in the early days of grief, as time goes on you will find strength within yourself you didn’t know you had. Even as we struggle, we can learn and grow.

Don’t assume people ‘get used’ to loss – grief in old age is still grief

Sometimes we need to spell out the obvious – the longer you have known someone the more chance you have had to share your lives, to love and to connect. The loss of a spouse, of siblings and of friends in older age can be a tough adjustment, emotionally and socially – these after all are the people who have made up your house of memory.

The first step in bereavement care is developing some understanding of what’s going on for someone.

What helps?

  1. Seek out accurate information about grief and loss

  2. Be patient and gentle with yourself as you grieve

  3. Acknowledge the extent of your loss

  4. Allow yourself to cope and to grieve in a way that suits you

  5. Try to sleep well, eat well and take gentle exercise

  6. Accept emotional and practical support from friends and family

  7. Try not to make major or rash decisions while you grieve

  8. Talk to your GP if you feel you need further support

Everyone experiences death through bereavement and Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) believes support in grief should be available for all who need it. Being there for those who are grieving and understanding their needs is a key pillar of our work. For more information and support, visit our Bereavement & Loss hub today,

IHF also runs Ireland’s national Bereavement Support Line, freephone 1800 80 70 77. Available Monday to Friday, 10am-1pm. In partnership with the HSE.