‘A Sense of Grief’: How the five senses can spark grief

19 Oct 2023
Image of a painting on display as part of Sue Ryder’s ‘A Sense of Grief’ campaign

We’ve launched our new campaign, A Sense of Grief, to highlight the profound impact the five senses have on the grieving process.

Our new research has found a staggering 91% of people agree that sensory triggers remind them of someone they are grieving.

Most people said they experience moments like this multiple times per week. For 1 in 5 people, it’s every single day.

The triggers evoking the strongest emotions were: 

  • Seeing an old photograph (49%)
  • Hearing their favourite song (38%)
  • The smell of perfume or aftershave (32%)
  • Seeing a place they visited together (28%)
  • Touching an item of their clothing (23%)

These moments can conjure up a range of emotions including:

  • Reflection (40%)
  • A sense of connection (27%)
  • A wave of grief (54%) 
  • Sadness (61%)
  • Stopped them in their tracks (29%)
  • Distracted from whatever they are doing (38%)

Despite the challenges, support can make a difference. Over 2 in 5 (44%) people said a hug from a friend would help and 15% said kindness from a stranger would be beneficial during these moments.

Leeds Exhibition

To launch the campaign a unique pop-up exhibition will be open on 19th – 20th October 2023 at the Leeds Corn Exchange.

The exhibition will explore these five senses, guiding people through sensory objects and experiences that evoke a range of feelings associated with grief, shared by Sue Ryder’s celebrity ambassadors and people the charity has supported. 

The exhibition will feature a multitude of items, that contributors said evoked the strongest memories or emotions about someone who has died. 

From stands displaying favourite perfumes, hand creams, as well as deeply personal reminders of loved ones, such as the smell of plaster, paintings and poems. These have all been shared by Sue Ryder’s celebrity supporters and people who have benefitted from Sue Ryder’s palliative and bereavement services. 

The exhibition is designed to be tactile, with visitors encouraged to interact with the items, such as playing music, or smelling fragrances and touching fabrics.

Image of Leeds Corn Exchange housing Sue Ryder's  ‘A Sense of Grief’ campaign display

Getting people talking

Heidi Travis, Chief Executive at Sue Ryder, says:

“The A Sense of Grief campaign highlights that those who are grieving can be impacted daily by many emotions and memories. This campaign aims to create a space for people to explore these sensory triggers and understand their impact – not only for those grieving, but for people who would like to support their friends and family who are grieving. 

“Almost 90% of people tell us that they feel alone in their grief, and friends and family of those grieving tell us they just don’t know what to say or do. We believe that this is the perfect storm and leaves many grieving people feeling isolated. 
“By talking about these common trigger moments, we want to help start conversations around grief. Try asking your friend or loved one, ‘What reminds you most of your Mum?’ for example. Most people tell us they want to talk about the person who has died, so invite them to and then spend as much time as you can simply listening.”

Luke Sollitt, whose father, James, was cared for at Sue Ryder’s Wheatfield Hospice said:

“If at least one person can take some calm away with them and know they are not alone in their grief and the never-ending journey of missing a loved one, it’s a start. Grief never truly ends, despite many people think that “times a healer.” Grief never heals, we just battle to cope with the loss of a loved one. 
Sadly for me, I bottle it all up, but slowly I’m finding ways to release, before that bottle of emotions pops like a champagne! For example, fundraising around the anniversary, talking about my dad and the grief where I can - and if my emotions allow me. Or even just listening to songs that remind me of the love, guidance, support and valuable life lessons he taught me over the decades, which has made me the man I am today!” 

ITV Emmerdale Star Lisa Riley and Sue Ryder Ambassador said:

“I often have sensory memories of my wonderful mum which can trigger feelings of grief and Sue Ryder's research shows that this is far from uncommon in the bereavement process. I want to encourage people caught in these moments to be able to talk about them and acknowledge how tough they can be. I hope that this campaign will not only help those who are grieving, but also provide a framework of understanding for those who are supporting the bereaved.”

Image of perfume bottles on display as part of Sue Ryder’s ‘A Sense of Grief’ campaign displays

How you can find support

If you need to speak to someone about how you are feeling, or a loved one, we’re here to help. As well as offering end-of-life support through our expert local palliative care services, we offer online bereavement support nationally. 

  • Our expert information and advice can help you or someone close to you cope with their grief. We also have information for how to deal with practical issues after someone has died.
  • Our Online Community is a place to share experiences with people who know what you’re going through. You can get things off your chest, ask questions and chat to people who understand.
  • If you’re struggling with grief, we offer free and professional video counselling to people living in the UK and over 18 years old.
  • Sign up for Grief Coach and we’ll send you thoughtful, personalised tips and suggestions. Texts are curated by experts just for you. 

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