12 things young people have told us about grief

The death of someone close to you can be really difficult to cope with, and as a young person, this may be the first time you’ve experienced a bereavement. On this page, we’re sharing some insights from other young people who are grieving, so you can see you're not alone in how you feel.

If you’re reading this because someone close to you has died or is seriously ill, we’re so very sorry. Dealing with the death of someone you love can be a profoundly painful experience, and coming to terms with this can take time.  

As a young person, you may be trying to navigate new and difficult feelings while juggling studies, work, social pressures or big decisions about your future. And you might feel like no one understands what you’re going through.

That’s why people often find it helpful to hear from others who have experienced a bereavement. So, here are 12 things young people have told us about their experiences of grief, along with some extra info and advice from the work we’ve done with bereaved people.

1. You’re likely to experience a huge range of emotions

When someone close to you dies, you may feel deep sadness, emotional pain, shock, anger, guilt, anxiety, helplessness and many other emotions. You might find yourself swinging between different moods and feelings, and crying suddenly when you don’t expect it. Or you may be so overwhelmed that you feel numb. 

One young person said grief made them lose a sense of who they were, just at a point when they had to make big decisions about what they wanted in life.

Learning to live with loss can take a long time, and you’ll probably have ups and downs. Your feelings can be shaped by many things, such as your life experiences so far, your relationship with the person, how they died and what kind of support you have around you. 

I felt bad for maybe not feeling the way I ‘should’ feel, and then it all sort of hit me... like a dump truck later on.

2. You don’t have to hide how you’re feeling

When you’re grieving, it can feel hard to talk about it to those around you. But young people have told us that finding someone to open up to – like a trusted friend, family member, teacher, colleague, counsellor, support group or online community – can really help. 

Try to find people you can be really honest with about how you’re feeling, and who respond in ways that you find helpful. Remember that it’s OK to feel however you feel and you’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve what has happened. 

It’s almost like you’re stood in the sea as a child… one minute it’s really calm, and the next minute a massive wave just comes and takes you out.

3. You may not grieve in the same way as other people, and that’s OK

No two people cope with losing someone they care about in exactly the same way. There’s no “right” or “normal” way to grieve, and coming to terms with loss takes longer for some people than others.

If you find you’re responding to the loss differently to friends or family members, that’s totally OK. Each of them and their relationships with the person who died will be different, and so will the way you all deal with the loss you’re experiencing.

It’s OK to realise that everyone grieves differently.

4. It’s normal to have feelings like rage, guilt and frustration

Grief and loss often bring up difficult feelings. You might feel angry, lose motivation to do things you enjoy or find yourself pushing people away. 

Young people have described feeling guilty for things they didn’t do before their loved one died, and frustrated that friends didn’t understand what they were going through.

If you’re feeling these kinds of things, try not to give yourself a hard time. Remember that grief can come out in all kinds of different ways, not just as sadness. Difficult feelings are really common when you lose someone you love, and they don’t reflect who you are as a person. 

My mood changed. I was very flippant. I pushed people away that were my friends, because I think I was frustrated that they didn’t know how to deal with it.

5. It can be hard feeling like the “odd one out” among your friends

Young people told us they felt very conscious of suddenly being different to everyone else after someone close to them had died. Some felt worried about “bringing down the mood” or about their friends getting bored of them talking about their grief. 

Your friends may know you’re struggling and really want to help, but be unsure of what to do. So we’ve put together some advice for supporting a young person through grief. This is for you to share with friends if you think it could help them understand what you’re going through and how to support you better.

6. People will say the wrong thing sometimes

Although people around you want to be supportive, they may say things that upset you without meaning to. 

Young people have told us it’s hard when friends say “I know what you’re going through”, when really they don’t. Or when people compare their loved one’s death to a less significant loss. That’s why we’ve written this guidance on what to say to someone who’s grieving, and what to avoid.

7. Death and grief may not be at all like you expect

If you’ve not experienced a loss before, the reality of it can be a huge shock. You might find that your expectations have been shaped by what’s on TV and in films, when in reality things are much more layered and complicated. 

Young people have told us that seeing someone they love become very ill and die was nothing like they thought it would be, and nor was the grief they felt afterwards. So if things are different to how you imagined, remember that this isn’t unusual.

You may also find that things that happened while the person was ill, or soon after their death, stay with you. If you’re struggling with painful memories, telling someone can really help. 

I was there, and it was nothing like what I thought it was going to be. And then the grief was nothing like what I thought it was going to be.

8. It may feel uncomfortable talking about death and grief with family

If your family has never spoken openly about grief, it can be hard to find a way to express how you’re feeling when you lose someone. You might look to older adults around you for guidance, but find they’re not comfortable talking about it. 

One young person told us that by starting conversations about grief, they helped other relatives to open up. Each family will be different, but it’s important to find people you can talk to about how you’re really feeling if you need to, either inside your family or beyond it.

9. You need to find the support that works for you

Speaking to a counsellor can help you cope with loss. You may be able to arrange counselling through your school, college or university, or via your GP. If you’re over 18, you might want to try Sue Ryder’s Online Bereavement Counselling Service, which could offer up to six free sessions via video, following an assessment session.  

But counselling may not be right for everyone. One young person said that the thought of talking face-to-face with a therapist at a set time each week was daunting for them. And that they found it difficult reliving painful memories during the session.

Young people have told us that support from other people who have experienced loss can really help. Things like the Sue Ryder Online Bereavement Community, other online groups, podcasts, Instagram accounts and apps offer a flexible, accessible way to get help, or connect with people who understand what you’re feeling, as and when you need to. 

In some parts of the country, you can find in-person support groups for young people too. Here are some places you could start:

  • Winston’s Wish hosts online support groups for young people aged 13 to 18 who have lost a parent, sibling or close relative. 
  • Let’s Talk About Loss organises meet-ups across the UK for young people aged 18 to 35. They’re a safe space to share stories and struggles without fear, judgement or awkward silences.
  • Sue Ryder’s Online Community is a place to share experiences of loss, get things off your chest, ask questions and chat to people of all ages who understand. Please note you need to be over 18 to register.
  • Refugee Council runs psychosocial support groups where refugees can share their experiences, including loss, grief and separation from loved ones. 

When I do need to connect, I turn to things like podcasts… I need to visually see someone who looks like me, sounds like me, is like me.

10. Grief can affect your mental health in ways you don’t always realise

Losing someone you love can have a big impact on your mental health. You may find yourself experiencing anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, or feeling distressed when people talk about particular topics. 

One young person told us they didn’t realise that mental health struggles they had years after their loved one died could still be connected to grief. 

If your mental health is affected, the first step is to acknowledge it so you can get the right support. Your GP can discuss the options so you can choose what’s right for you, and you can also find lots of information on the NHS website

If you need urgent help right now, you can text SHOUT to 85258 and talk to them for free 24/7 about anything. Or call Samaritans any time on 116 123 for a free, confidential chat. For more options, see our urgent help page.

We definitely don’t talk about what it’s actually like to lose someone you care about really young, and how that affects you for so much more of your life.

11. Grief changes over time, and it can show up in different ways

Young people told us that grief for the person they had lost never went away, but it changed and evolved over time. They said they continued to carry their loved one in their mind, and sometimes those memories brought happiness as well as sadness.

They also said grief could appear in different ways at different times, including years later when the person wasn’t there for big life events like their graduation or to help them through tough times. 

For most people loss becomes easier to cope with over time, and they’re able to build a positive future. When you’re feeling the pain of loss, try to be kind to yourself and do what you need to be OK. If you’re not sure what to do, these ideas could help

It never really goes away, and it kind of evolves as well… My grief is entirely different to eight years ago, but it’s not gone. And it’s nothing like how I thought it would be.

12. You don’t have to make something glorious out of your grief

People often find meaning after loss by doing something big, like writing or speaking about grief, or raising money for charity in their loved one’s name. This can be really helpful for some people, but it doesn’t mean you have to do the same. 

As one young person pointed out, we all honour our loved ones differently and there’s no right way to do it. For a lot of people, carrying the person’s memory with them and finding private ways to celebrate their life is enough.

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