Fresh Grief? 5 Things to Know 

What do you do after someone dies? In the weeks or months after a loss, there can be a lot to handle, practically and emotionally. Here are top tips from grief coach Charlene Lam, from grief’s “timeline” to getting grief support.

If you’ve lost a loved one, a friend, a family member … I’m sending you so much love. I’m sending a virtual hug if you’re the hugging type but otherwise just so much love, wherever you are in the world and wherever you are with your grief. Here are a couple of things that I would like you to know if you’ve lost someone fairly recently — and “recent” can mean anything from 2 weeks to 2 years! (Grief time is not like normal time.)

1. Whatever you’re feeling right now and whatever you’re going to be feeling is perfectly fine. It’s normal.

Whether it is anger, whether it is regret whether it’s guilt, sadness or nothing at all … all of it is a normal response to loss. There isn’t one emotion that’s associated with grief. So don’t feel like you might be doing it wrong, if you’re not feeling sad enough or worried that maybe you’re doing it wrong because you’re feeling too much! It’s all normal and your emotions might change from day to day and from moment to moment so don’t judge your emotions. Don’t judge how you’re doing. Whatever you’re feeling is perfectly fine.

2. Grief has no set timeline. Even with the emotions the way that it can change from moment to moment, you might find that day to day it’s not consistent.

We’ve all heard about the 5 Stages of Grief, right? But that’s a really outdated model and kind of poorly understood, in that it wasn’t really meant to be 1. a step-by-step linear process and 2. it wasn’t really designed to apply to grief after the death of a loved one. For some people, having the idea of stages can be comforting and if that’s you, that’s great.

But we do want to challenge that idea that there are linear stages and that at some point, we’re done and then we graduate from grief! That’s just not how it works. Yes, your grief is going to change over time and it’s going to change over the years, but there are no set stages and you might feel different things at different times. Anniversaries and significant dates might bring up different emotions.

You might be surprised by emotions. So there is no set timeline  … and related to that there’s what I call the F* Your Rainbows factor, in that a lot of grief advice or perspective or the things that people say … I think they’re often coming from a good place — and hopefully good intentions — but it can be really clumsy. And it’s also the fact that when people are talking about grief that they’ve experienced or losses that they’ve experienced, they are further down the line. They have had more time, they have had more space perhaps, to process. And they are at that point after the storm, as I put it, where they’re able to say, oh yeah, but you know look at the Rainbows and the Silver Linings. And some of it can come off really insensitive and really clumsy.

But I like to think about it as, okay they don’t remember what it’s like to be in the storm  of a recent loss, in that “stage” or phase of acute grief where the loss is very recent.

So when you’re in the midst of the storm, you don’t really want to hear about rainbows or silver linings or “at least your loved one didn’t suffer” or “at least they lived a good life” —  anything that starts with  “at least” for sure.

So people might offer rainbows and they might offer Silver Linings, and you might not be ready to hear it and that is totally fine.

Especially if you really do feel like you are in the midst of the storm and just trying to survive.

I will say (caveat) that there is at some point the possibility for rainbows and for me personally I found it helpful to think that at some point, I would be able to see Silver Linings, I would feel like there were more sunny days than dark days.

So if that’s you if that analogy feels comforting to you please, do feel free to use that. But don’t feel like you have to embrace those Silver Linings or the rainbows that people might offer.

3. We talked about a range of emotions that you might experience.

There are a couple of ways that you can respond when you have an emotion. One, you can allow the emotion, you can just let it be. You can just feel it.

Two, you can resist the emotion, where you try to pretend it’s not there. You try to push it down, you don’t want to accept it.

Three, you can react to the emotion.

So whether that looks like in sadness that maybe you want to drown your sorrows in alcohol. Maybe in anger you lash out at someone. That’s reacting to the emotion. We can’t always control it, but if we’re to look at the range of options for when you have an emotion — whether it’s to allow it, to resist it, or to react to it or react from it — I would suggest learning, seeing if you can allow the emotion.

Yes, in the moment, deep sadness, anger, guilt, shame, they might all feel terrible. But if we can just allow it and let it process through our body, work it through with a therapist or grief coach, work it through through movement (whatever makes sense for you) I think personally that that can be a healthy way to hold those emotions that are going to be coming up.

4. OPP — Other People’s Process

Do you remember that song OPP by Naughty by Nature? OPP stands for different things but in this instance, I’m going to say that OPP stands for Other People’s Processes. Meaning that different people do definitely grieve in  different ways and different people have different capacities for handling emotions and scenarios.

And especially when someone dies, when a close family member or a loved one dies, it brings up a whole range of reactions and emotions. I personally found that very surprising.

It can be a big source of conflict after someone dies, because people are going to respond differently. People are going to have different expectations. You might be surprised by people’s responses. And this is based on a number of things, right?

One, the relationship that you had with a person. Your relationship with the person is going to be very, well, personal and how you feel and how you think about that person is really going to affect how you feel about their loss. The relationship that someone else had with that person might be very different.

And there’s also a range of ways in which people naturally process their emotions and how they process grief. So for instance, there are cognitive processors. People who want to think about things and want to analyze it, want to make sense of it. And there are people who might range more toward emotional processing. They want to cry, they want to yell, they really want to talk about their feelings and express their feelings.

It’s not binary. But sometimes there can be a tendency toward one over the other. I am much more of a cognitive processor. Show me all the grief theory! Let me do all the research. Give me a checklist.

Whereas, other people in my family were much more emotional processors after my mother died. It took a while to recognize that we had these different ways of processing. And to let it be okay that we did have these different styles and not to expect other people to process in the way that I expected them to and also not to take it too personally when people kind of implied that I wasn’t expressing or processing my grief differently.

So let other people’s processes (OPP) be their own and embrace what feels good to you.

5. Support. Build your support system.

Don’t be afraid to lean on people for practical or emotional support. There is a lot that can come up in terms of responsibilities, depending on your relationship with the person and whether you’re officially in charge of the estate or unofficially the default person who takes care of things.

So lean on all the help that you can get. There are a lot more services and resources now, which  is really exciting. There are startups out there that can help you with taking care of paperwork, with calling to cancel accounts and dealing with all those estate matters. My grief resources page has a list of some of those options for practical support and emotional support after loss.

And when we talk about the different ways in which people process grief, you might be surprised by who is part of your support system after you lose a loved one. I was pretty surprised it wasn’t necessarily my closest friends. t wasn’t necessarily the family members that I thought would be my biggest supports. I got in touch with cousins who I hadn’t necessarily been that close to or talked to that much, but they were such an important source of support after my mom died.

You might need to really see who responds to you in the way that you need it.

I really found that sometimes I needed co-workers who would help distract me from all the things that were going on after my mother died. And then I found that there were friends who had experienced the loss of their parents who could speak about it and really share their experience. And that was really valuable for me as a form of emotional support, to validate my experience, to hear what they did and what they experienced.

And then in terms of practical and emotional support, I identified that I needed people who were kind and competent to help me deal with things like my mother’s house. If you can name and identify some of the ways that would be helpful to you in the coming months and in the coming years, reach out to those people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to lean on people.

I mentioned having people that you can talk to, who know, somewhat, what you’re experiencing. I do find that that aspect of community can be really helpful. In my case I was lucky enough to have friends and people in my network who had experienced parental loss and who were willing to talk about it. Other people don’t necessarily have that but there are a whole range of support groups out there now, whether it’s in the form of Instagram posts or actual support groups that meet on Zoom, that talk about various kinds of loss. 

Create that support network. Lean into it. Take amazing care of yourself.

When you lose someone, that is a massive experience. And I think it takes our human brains quite a while to kind of catch up with that concept, right? We can’t even get your heads around, how is this possible? What does that mean? So take it slowly. Give your brain time to catch up. And your body is going to really kind of feel it as well, so be very gentle with yourself.

Sending lots of love to you. And get in touch for more grief resources:

Join my monthly group gathering for The Grief Gallery. It’s free on Zoom and it’s the last Wednesday of every month. 

– If you feel like you would benefit from grief coaching and one-to-one support, you can also book a complimentary call with me.

Get all the support that you can. You deserve it. Healing takes time and it takes help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Take care.


Monthly Grief Gathering

You’re invited to join The Grief Gallery’s free monthly gathering for creative inspiration and community connection. Hosted by grief coach and curator Charlene Lam.


I’m Charlene

I help grieving people feeling burdened by responsibilities, resentments and regrets after the death of a loved one to feel lighter –– so you can live your own fullest life. 

After the sudden death of my mother Marilyn in 2013, I put my life, work and grief on hold as I struggled to deal with the estate, paperwork and belongings.

Healing took time — and it took help.

I’m a certified grief coach, and I developed my Curating Grief framework to help people process grief in a creative, accessible way.


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