From ‘Winston’s Wish’

From the often talked about ‘five stages of grief’ to the idea that grieving people should be crying all the time, there are many common myths about grief. The Winston’s Wish team look at the truth behind these myths and reveal 12 things you should know about grief.

1. There aren’t just five stages of grief

There are lots of different ‘models of grief’ that clever people have come up with to neatly package grief into boxes. One that is often talked about suggests first you’ll feel this, then you’ll feel like that and once you’ve gone through all five stages, it’ll be over.

One thing we know at Winston’s Wish is that grief just isn’t like that. Its messy is disordered, it can jump from one emotion to another and back. And that’s all ok. It’s really normal. Grief doesn’t nicely fit into a box. We prefer the ‘growing around grief’ model to help children to understand grief.

2. Grief isn’t something you ‘get over’

Grief is not an obstacle course that you just need to complete and then that’s it. It’s not something that has a middle and end. It’s not something that you can tick off on a to-do list and never revisit. For some people, grief can be triggered at different points in their lives. It’s an ongoing experience. Support from people like Winston’s Wish isn’t there to make it all better and send you on your merry way. Our role is to accompany you for a while, pointing out some obstacles, the scenery and teaching you some new skills so that when it comes back you can recognise it and cope or seek some more support.

3. Getting help doesn’t mean you’re unwell or weak

We’ve heard so many times in the past 26 years of children, young people and adults who are worried about getting the help they deserve. Getting help is about acknowledging that a massive life-changing experience has occurred. Bereavement isn’t an illness. Grief is not something to be solved or fixed. It is part of what makes us human.

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4. Sudden bursts of emotion are normal when you’re grieving

Some people worry that if you experience sudden emotions then there is something wrong. Quite the contrary. At Winston’s Wish, we sometimes talk about grief being like being out at sea following a shipwreck. The waves all crashing around you. Emotion, after emotion. It can feel very overwhelming.

Go with it. One thing we know is that expressing those sudden bursts of emotion is a good thing to do. Maybe have a plan of what you’ll do if you suddenly cry, feel angry or anxious. Having a plan, even if you don’t follow it can make the emotions feel more manageable.

5. It’s ok not to cry

Crying is a normal response to sadness but it certainly isn’t the only one. If you cry, that’s ok. If you don’t cry, that’s ok. Some young people we work with tell us that they worry about not crying. We know at Winston’s Wish that the sadness and grief can be felt just as deeply and powerfully whether you cry or you don’t.

6. Laughing and having fun is ok

When we see grief on the television, we see lots of people being sad, angry, crying or withdrawn. But laughter and fun are grief too. When we remember someone we might laugh at the silly things they said or did. We might reminisce together about all the good things. This is part of grief too.

7. You won’t go back to your old self

This one sounds obvious but it’s essential to acknowledge that something really big and really important has happened to you. While grieving you’ll learn new skills and things about yourself. Also, you have experienced something challenging and maybe different to your friends. We talk about finding a new normal and this is the same with who you are. You’ll find a ‘new normal’ you. It might be more confident, or anxious or inquisitive or anything else. But one thing is for sure, you won’t be the same as you were before.

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8. You can still experience grief even if you didn’t like or had a strained relationship with the person who has died

We meet with many children, young people and adults who had strained relationships with the person who has died. It may feel like a relief that they’ve died and this can, in turn, make things feel a bit more complicated. Also, you may have wanted to repair the relationship or regret having said or done something. Most importantly though is that your grief is completely valid and legitimate.

9. Telling people about yourself can need a bit of thought

“So how many brothers and sisters do you have?” “How often do you see your dad?” “How many children do you have?”

These are really normal questions to ask when trying to be polite. These innocuous questions for someone for whom someone important has died can be so complicated. Do you say you say I have two sisters and risk they’ll ask more and you’ll have to explain one has died? Do you say one and feel like you’re pretending they don’t exist? There’s no right or wrong answer to how you respond, but it does take some forethought.

10. It’s impossible to replace someone who has died

When someone important to you dies it isn’t like when your favourite mug breaks and you just get a new one. Nothing will ever replace the person who has died. You might get a new stepparent or new sibling but they will never be the important person who has died. It is also important to realise that remembering the person who has died doesn’t belittle or dismiss the new people in your life, but honors who they were and acknowledges how important they are to you.

11. Grief can be a physical pain

We understand that the death of someone important causes emotional distress but it’s not always known that grief can cause physical distress too. The young people we work with tell us that they sometimes have general aches and pains, sickness or digestive problems. Grief affects your whole body, emotionally and physically.

12. Well-meaning people can say ridiculous things

People say the stupidest things when they’re nervous. Even though people dying happens every day, as a society we aren’t very good at talking about or acknowledging death. In other cultures, rituals around death help this but in Britain, we don’t really have any but we try. And that needs to be given credit for.

Where to get specialist support

If you need advice on supporting a bereaved child or young person, you can call the experienced Winston’s Wish team on 08088 020 021 (9.00am-5.00pm, Monday-Friday), email us on ask@winstonswish.org or use our online chat.

Our Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger is available 24/7 for urgent support in a crisis. Text WW to 85258.

Other resources you might find helpful

Publications and resources from Winston's Wish
Publications and resources

Our specialist publications to help parents and professionals supporting grieving children and young people of all ages and circumstances.


Activities for bereaved children
Activities for bereaved children

Download our activities to help grieving children and young people to explore and express their feelings and emotions and to help them maintain memories of the person who has died.