Losing someone close to you can be extremely distressing. People cope with bereavement in lots of different ways and there is no ‘correct’ way to cope.
Some days you may feel ok, but other days you may feel as if you just can’t manage.
It’s common to hear about 4 main phases of grief but they’re really just a list of the main ways people sometimes feel. Grief doesn’t really follow a set path. You can move from feeling one way to another and back again at anytime. The phases are listed below but, remember, some people don’t experience all of them.
- Accepting that your loss is real – it’s common to feel as if the person is still alive and this can be very confusing.
- Experiencing the pain of grief – you may feel extremely sad and many people spend a lot of time crying.
- Adjusting to life without the person who has died.
- Moving on – you won’t forget the person but you may feel able to be more emotionally involved in other things.
As time passes you will probably have lots of intense feelings. You may feel numb or overwhelmingly sad. You may feel angry or guilty (about something you said or did or about something you did not say or do). It’s quite common to think constantly about the person for 18 months or more (but many people don’t). You may also have physical symptoms of grief such as having difficulty sleeping and eating or feeling very tired.
When you are in the middle of grief it can feel as if you will never feel better. Sometimes the hardest moments are simple everyday activities that remind us that the person isn’t there (for example, filling the car with petrol because that was something that they used to do). Adjusting to their not being with us can be a slow process but over time you will find new meaning and balance.
There really is a very wide range of emotions and responses to losing a loved one. Please don’t worry that your response is ‘wrong’. However, if you spend a long time feeling so distressed that you cannot look after yourself and others or if you notice that you are getting very angry or upset with other people then it would be a good idea to seek help.
Is there anything I can do to feel better?
You will gradually find your own way of coping but here are some things that have helped others:
- Look after your physical health – try to eat and sleep well because it will help you cope with your emotions (but some eating and sleeping problems are to be expected)
- Pace yourself – some people like to stay very active others prefer to take time out – find out what works for you.
- Exercise can help lift your mood and make you think differently – you don’t have to do much. In fact just walking can be enough.
- Many people find it helps to talk through their feelings with friends, family or professionals
- Remember other people you know may have a very different way of grieving. You may need to find a way of being sensitive to each other’s needs whilst coping in your own way.
- Important dates, such as birthdays, can be particularly difficult. It helps to have a plan beforehand of what you will do to get through the day. Some people like to create a tradition to remember the person and connect with them whilst others need to distract themselves with other activities.
Remembering the person that you have lost
The reason we feel so sad following the loss of someone close to us is because they were important to us. Just because the person may not be physically with us it doesn’t mean that we have to lose the relationship we had with them. If we think about them we can imagine what they would say to us and how they would behave towards us in any situation.
Sometimes people get so caught up thinking about the fact that the person isn’t physically with them that they find it too painful to think about the person. This is understandable but it means that they’re missing out on all the positives that the relationship could still offer.
Another common problem is that the person blames themselves or has such regret that when they are reminded of their loss they only feel pain and anguish. Would the person you lost want you to feel like this? Would they want you to forgive yourself so that you can think about them and have positive feelings? Could you find a way to allow yourself to think about the positive moments you had together? Can you imagine what they might say to you now?
What can I do to help someone else who has been bereaved?
One of the most important things you can do for someone who has lost a loved one is to understand that everyone has a different response to grief. You can be really helpful just by giving them the time and space to grieve in their own way.
You could also:
- Let them know that you are there for them – be ready to listen to them or just be near them if that’s what they want
- Give them space if they need it – they may want to think things through on their own.
- Create an environment where they can be themselves and show their true feelings rather than having to pretend that they are ok.
- Contact them at difficult times like birthdays.
- Offer practical help – helping them with troublesome daily tasks or sorting out other issues can be really useful if they are happy to accept your help.
Here are some things not to do:
- Don’t avoid them – it can be difficult to know what to say but just being there for them is important – you can always ask if there’s anything that you can do to help.
- Don’t use tired old statements like ‘you’ll get over it’, ‘time heals’ – just listen to how they feel.
- Don’t tell them that they ‘should be over it by now’. How long it takes is entirely individual.
Any questions or comments about bereavement?
Did you find this article helpful? If you have any questions on this topic write them in comments section at the bottom of this page and we’ll reply to you as soon as possible. It would also be good to read any comments or opinions you may have.
Would you like to discuss bereavement with one of our psychologists?
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Further Information …
I’ve included some links to websites that I have found useful below:
The NHS has good information on how to cope with bereavement. Including information on how to cope with the suicide of someone close to you or the bereavement of young people and children.
This British hospice cares for people with terminal illnesses. They offer practical and emotional advice on how to cope with bereavement.
This UK Charity focuses on supporting bereaved people. Their ‘Restoring Hope’ booklet is particularly helpful and discusses how to support children.
This link is to the college’s information leaflet for anyone that has been bereaved. Although it’s written by psychiatrists the information is intended for everyone.