Most People Don't Understand What Grief Actually Feels Like

Grief makes it feel as if your body is doing everything from muscle memory, while your brain just tags along.

Last updated on May 13, 2023

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By Devon Geduldig

Everyone knows how "grief" is defined. But only those who have experienced it know what it truly feels like.

It’s easy for people to assume that grief is just overwhelming sadness. Sometimes it is true, but those who are grieving know that there’s so much more to it than that.

It can be hard to explain to others what it’s like and how it turns your entire life upside down.

RELATED: 5 Stages Of Grief During Divorce That Are More Than Just Sadness


However, there are ways you can try to understand, even if you’re not grieving yourself. When you think about grief, the first thing you think of is sadness. 

When you suffer a loss — such as losing a parent or spouse — your sadness will be instant. You will be overcome with emotion and, more often than not, will cry at the initial loss.

However, for most people, that sadness comes in waves — either tidal waves or ripples. These waves will come every day and multiple times a day. There will even be times that they won’t come.

I lost my dad 4 months ago, and although I know he’s gone, there are still times where it doesn’t feel real... it just feels like a dream that never actually happened. I have friends whose loss hadn’t hit them for an entire year.


This part of grief is completely normal and affects everyone differently. A symptom of grief that I’ve never heard about before is that your mind and body go into auto-pilot. 

I have a few friends that have suffered major losses as I have, and they all went through this stage.

It’s hard to describe, but imagine floating through life — from one day to the next — with no real idea what you are doing or what day it is.

It feels as if your body is doing everything from muscle memory, while your brain just tags along, partially unaware of your surroundings. You wake up, brush your teeth, go to work, leave work, but you don’t remember large chunks of the day.


By the time you realize it, you are home in bed, preparing for another day. In my experience, what comes along with this auto-pilot is also the inability to focus or concentrate.

You try to read something or work on a project, but you can’t force yourself to do it and you don’t even care. You’re just going about your day.

RELATED: My Boyfriend Died Suddenly — And The Grief Is Overwhelming

When you suffer a major loss, you suddenly realize what’s important in life and what’s not. Drama — whether it’s at work, with friends, or with your family — is no longer taking up space in your brain.

You realize how fleeting life is and you no longer waste even an ounce of your precious energy on things that don’t matter. You are on auto-pilot, so every conscious moment matters.


Before my dad passed away, there was a lot of stress and drama in my workplace. But after he passed, I no longer cared.

I took on a new mindset of, "not my problem." Imagine a coworker complaining to you about a fellow employee and your brain instinctively says, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

If there is one thing to remember about those who are grieving, it’s that grief never goes away. It stays with you forever. Your life will never go back to the way it was, but you can move forward and create a new normal.


If you know someone who is grieving, please remember that they are doing the best they can. Every day is an internal battle with triggers around every corner.

Grief has the power to be all-encompassing, and even if your friend or loved one is smiling, just know that it probably takes every ounce of energy to do just that. 

RELATED: 11 Thoughts Every Single Person Has During The Stages Of Grief

Devon Geduldig is a musician, writer and former contributor to Unwritten whose work focuses on relationships, self-care, and lifestyle topics. Visit her Twitter for more.