The death of a loved one can be a devastating experience, and while it can affect different people in different ways, there’s no right or wrong way to feel about it, as your experience of death and how you cope with the stages of bereavement will be entirely personal to you.
What to Expect when someone you love dies
After the bereavement of someone who has meant a lot to you (be they family, friend or for some people, even a pet that you had a particularly strong relationship with), you’re likely to experience a whole range of different emotions, which often begin with shock or numbness and an unwillingness to accept what has happened, followed by a feeling of overpowering sadness, which may be accompanied by crying and physical indications of complete loss. You may also experience tiredness, and even anger against the bereaved, their illness or way of death.
This can be followed by guilt; maybe there’s something you wished you had said or done, or perhaps you feel guilty that you weren’t able to prevent their death? You may also become forgetful, be unable to concentrate, or feel like you’re in a bit of a daze.
Remember that all these feelings and emotions are perfectly normal, and while they can be debilitating for a while, there are many things that you can do to help you cope and get through this difficult time, and not be completely overwhelmed by feelings of grief (though you may well feel, or fear that you will be).
It is perfectly normal to feel terrible, equally, it is entirely normal to feel numb, or be unsure of what exactly it is you are feeling. You may ‘forget’ what has happened from time to time, and expect to see the person, or think you have seen them, go to tell them something, or prepare to engage in some activity you ‘normally’ would have done before their passing, whether phoning, texting, visiting, or contacting them on social media, then experience the horrible shock of realising that is not possible. This shock of loss can even be accompanied by feelings of guilt – ‘how could I have forgotten’ you may think? Yet it does take the mind and emotions time to adjust, so there is no need to be hard on yourself at this difficult time.
Helping Yourself Through Bereavenent
- Don’t place too many demands on yourself.
You’re going through one of the most stressful events in life and you may be both physically and emotionally drained, so treat yourself gently.
- Try to look after yourself too and stay fit and healthy.
It’s easy to neglect your health, especially if you’ve lost your appetite. In order to keep your mind strong and healthy, it’s important to eat nourishing foods and regularly practice some form of exercise, even if it’s just a short walk outdoors every day. If you can’t face big meals, try eating little and often, and don’t forget to rest and get plenty of sleep.
- Allow yourself to experience your feelings, and don’t be afraid to give into your emotions. They are just feelings, however sad – they will pass.
Allow yourself to cry and talk about your feelings when you need to. Letting your emotions out can help you feel better, even if they seem overwhelming. Whatever you do, do not be tempted to hide your feelings for fear of upsetting others as this only interrupt your own grieving process.
- Write your feelings down, maybe in a journal, or even as a letter to the person who died.
Don’t be afraid to express how you’re coping with the experience by writing everything down and taking note of how it is that you’re actually feeling. Acknowledging your feelings of sadness, loss or guilt will enable you to really dwell in those emotions giving you the power to move on.
- Try not to isolate yourself too much. Spend time with loved ones.
When you’re feeling low, some people find it very difficult to be around others, the expectation to talk or appear normal may feel overwhelming. Equally, some really crave company, so as not to be left alone with their thoughts and feelings, which may feel like they threaten to be overwhelming. Whilst you may crave and need some space and silence, it is often wise not to isolate yourself, and where possible, surround yourself with people who care about you, who are prepared to listen when you want to talk, give you a hug when you need one, and who are able to provide the comfort and reassurance that you need at this difficult time.
- Seek out extra support.
If you’re finding it hard to talk or express your emotions to family and friends, don’t forget that there are many support groups out there, including specialist bereavement support groups and bereavement counsellors. If you have no-one you feel you can turn to, then turning to your GP, or a counselling support service (online or on the phone) such as those listed at the end of this article, can help you get through the worst of those moments when feelings of grief, disbelief, anger, guilt, loneliness or loss, may be most acute.
- Take each day as it comes.
It’s important to remember that there’s no set time for grieving; your own experience will be different to that of others so allow yourself all the time that you need. There is no-one watching the clock, and no set time for how long the more acute phase of bereavement takes. Some people can feel much better after weeks, with others months, for others it may be longer still. If you are concerned about the length of time it feels like it is taking you to deal with your loss, and if it is debilitating and impacting other areas of your life, by all means, seek out professional help through your Doctor or online through national bereavement support or mental health organisations.
- And finally, when you do feel more able to move on from the intense early grieving period, don’t feel guilty.
There usually eventually comes a time, however far off it may feel now, when something will shift within you, and the acute grief may at first temper to a duller sense of loss, and eventually lighten again to being able to recall happier times with your loved one, without feeling so raw. You will always remember the person you lost but it’s also important to remember that it’s not wrong to feel better, it is no reflection of how much you loved that person, and your loved one will always be with you in spirit, in your heart and in your memories.
Bereavement Support organisations (UK & Ireland)
You may find the following organisations helpful if you, or someone you love is dealing with a death and the pain of bereavement, or anticipating the loss of a friend or relative who is terminally ill.
- Bereaved.ie – helpful information from the Hospice Society Ireland
- Cruse Bereavement care – excellent information from the UK organisation
- Spunout.ie – bereavement information for young people and teenager
- Anam Cara – support for parents and siblings after the loss of a child
- Child Bereavement UK (for those who have lost a child, or children dealing with bereavement)