Experiencing a bereavement can affect you in several ways:
- You may feel sad and cry easily.
- You might feel numb and disconnected from other people.
- You might feel empty and that life is meaningless.
- Your appetite may change and you might eat more or less than usual.
- Your sleep pattern might change and you might sleep more or less than usual.
- You might have difficulty concentrating or completing tasks.
- You might not enjoy activities that you previously enjoyed.
- You might spend long periods of time thinking about the person who died and find memories are triggered easily or unexpectedly.
Common feelings include (from NHS Choices):
- Shock and numbness (this is usually the first reaction to the death and people often speak of being in a daze).
- Overwhelming sadness.
- Tiredness and exhaustion.
- Anger, for example towards the person that died, their illness, others or God.
- Guilt, for example about feeling angry, about something you said or didn’t say, or not being able to stop your loved one dying.
- Relief, perhaps if the person who has died was ill or suffering.
- You might find that you are drinking more alcohol than you usually do or using illicit or prescription drugs.
- You might have a sensation of hearing, smelling or seeing the individual who has died.
- You might experience grief as physical pain.
- Give yourself some time. It is natural to feel sad and distressed following a bereavement
- Be kind to yourself and give yourself some time to heal
- Talking to others and spending time with friends and family can help
- It is important to remember to look after yourself and stick to your normal routines as much as possible including eating regular meals and sleeping
- Try and include regular exercise
- Try to include some enjoyable activities in your life. Do whatever feels manageable in terms of getting out, taking part in hobbies and socialising. Some people can feel guilty for taking part in enjoyable activities but it is important to look after your own well being
- When you feel ready, find ways to remember the person in your life. You might want to talk about them with others who knew them well and can help you hang onto good memories. Don’t be afraid to keep photos around and it might help to put together a box or album of memories
- You might want to find a way to mark the life of the person who has died.
There is no right or wrong way to feel following bereavement and all these feelings are normal. Feelings can be intense or overwhelming in the early stages and can get in the way of everyday life.
Although bereavement is not something you “get over”, for most people, with time and support the pain becomes gradually easier to live with.
Bereavement is sometimes considered to have four general stages:
- Accepting the loss is real
- Experiencing the pain of grief
- Adjusting to life without the person who has died
- Putting less emotional energy into grieving and putting it into something else or something new.
These stages are just a rough guide. You might not go through all the stages in this order, or find you start to feel better, then go through a period of feeling somewhat worse for a while. Sometimes special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas or the anniversary of the person’s death can bring difficult feelings to the surface.
Some bereavements can feel more difficult and people can struggle to come to terms with their grief. This can be more common if:
- There is stigma attached to the death (for example suicide or following drug or alcohol addiction)
- The death was unexpected or you thought you would have more time with the person
- The death was with someone you were particularly close to or cared for
- You had a difficult or complicated relationship with the person who has died
- The loss is of a child, including children who pass away before, during or shortly after birth
- You have other difficulties in your life that are making it hard for you to process the death.
Signs you might need additional support:
- You feel you can’t go on without the person who died or wish you were with them
- The emotions feel intense and out of your control such as crying all the time, feeling anxious and panicky or getting angry and irritated with other people
- You are neglecting yourself i.e. not eating properly or looking after yourself
- Struggling to get out of bed and do the things you usually do such as work, study or look after your children.
Initially following a bereavement you might find it difficult to work or lack the energy and motivation to do things. You might find yourself withdrawing from other people to avoid discussing your bereavement or reminders of the person who died. If it has been at least six months, or maybe even years, after the bereavement and you still feel this way, or feel that it is having an impact on your mood you may need additional support to help you process your loss. You can discuss this with your GP, or click to the Find out more page for more information on services
You can have a very important role in supporting a friend or family member going through a bereavement. The most important thing you can do is to be available and ready to talk. Grief and loss can feel upsetting to talk about, and sometimes people can shy away from this topic or avoid those who are bereaved for fear of saying the wrong thing. Try to stay in contact and be willing to listen when your friend or family member talks about the person who has died. Remember they are not asking you to solve these problems, often listening is enough. If your family member is distressed or irritable, try not to take this personally.
Remember that birthdays and anniversaries may be a difficult time and they might appreciate extra support at these times.
Also be careful to look after yourself, even if you did not know the person who has died well, it can be emotionally hard to support someone who is grieving.
SOBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide)
Petal (People who have experienced trauma and loss)
Child Bereavement Charity (Support for families who have lost a child or children who have experienced a bereavement)
The Compassionate Friends (Support following the death of a child of any age)
Sands (Stillbirth and neonatal death charity)
Acknowledgement: Peter Cartwright, Bereaved Through Substance Use:Guidelines for those whose work brings them into contact with adults bereaved after a drug or alcohol-related death. University of Bath, 2015. This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number ES/J007366/1].