Grief, loss and trauma

What is grief and loss?

Grief describes how a person feels after the loss of someone or something that is very important to them. The grief experienced from a loss affects the whole person, including their mind, spirit, and body, as well as the relationships they have with other people. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people refer to grief as ‘sorry business’. It is important to understand grief within the social (e.g., family relationships) and cultural context in which it takes place. Grief can occur with the loss of:

  • personal relationships (e.g. relationship breakup)
  • good health
  • a job
  • someone important due to death
  • someone important due to imprisonment
  • someone important because of a drug or alcohol problem, which causes them to not always be there for others in the family.

Grief can also occur because of the long-term effects of the Stolen generations, or a cultural separation from land, language, or knowledge. In some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the grief is ongoing because of the ‘unfinished business’ of the Stolen generations and other impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. If this grief stays unresolved, it may be passed on through the generations of a family; this is called intergenerational grief.

Grief is different for every person and a time limit cannot be put on it. Grief is an unfortunate part of life, but too much grief is not good for a person. How a person grieves will depend on:

  • their personality
  • the nature of the event that has led to the grief
  • who they can share their grief with
  • how many times they have had to deal with grief and loss
  • their physical wellbeing
  • the emotional support available to them.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are very supportive of each other and, when a loss occurs in a community, the grief experienced is often felt by many people and can have a crushing impact on the health and the stability of the communities involved.

References and further reading

Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council (ADAC) (2003) Grief and trauma project. Adelaide: Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council (SA)

Key resources

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