For most of us, bereavement will be the most distressing experience we will ever face. Grief is what we feel when somebody we are close to dies. Everyone experiences grief differently and there is no 'normal' or 'right' way to grieve. This section explains how you may feel when you lose someone close to you.

One thing we know from talking to people who’ve been bereaved is that no one experiences grief in the same way. Whatever you’re feeling, try to remember that it’s normal and there are people who can support you if you need it. The following includes practical information about coping with loss and bereavement. 

Other people's reactions

One of the hardest things to face when we are bereaved is the way other people react to us. They often do not know what to say or how to respond to our loss. Because they don't know what to say or are worried about saying the wrong thing, people can avoid those who have lost someone. This is hard for us because we may well want to talk about the person who has died. It can become especially hard as time goes on and other people's memories of the person who has died fade.

How to help someone bereaved

If you know someone who is grieving the death of someone close you may wonder how best to support them. Read on for some suggestions of what to say and do.

People who have been bereaved may want to talk about the person who has died. One of the most helpful things you can do is simply listen, and give them time and space to grieve. Offering specific practical help, not vague general offers, can also be very helpful.

Do try to

  • Be there for the person who is grieving - pick up the phone, write or email, call in, or arrange to visit
  • Accept that everyone grieves in their own way, there is no 'normal' way.
  • Encourage the person to talk
  • Listen to the person
  • Create an environment in which the bereaved person can be themselves and show their feelings, rather than having to put on a front
  • Be aware that grief can take a long time and the length of time varies in each individual
  • Contact the person at difficult times such as special anniversaries and birthdays
  • Mention useful support agencies ( these are listed in the useful links section, some are also listed in the hospital bereavement book)
  • Offer useful practical help.

Try not to

  • Avoid someone who has been bereaved
  • Use clichés such as 'I understand how you feel'; 'You'll get over it ; 'Time heals'
  • Tell them it's time to move on, they should be over it - how long a person needs to grieve is entirely individual
  • Be alarmed if the bereaved person doesn’t want to talk or demonstrates anger
  • Underestimate how emotionally draining it can be when supporting a grieving person. Make sure you take care of yourself too.

Coping and adapting

When someone close to us dies we have to cope and adjust to living in a world which is irreversibly changed. We may have to let go of some dreams built up and shared with the person who has died.

The length of time it will take a person to accept the death of someone close and move forward is varied and will be unique to the mourner. How we react will be influenced by many different things, including:

  • Age
  • Personality
  • Cultural background
  • Religious beliefs
  • Previous experiences of bereavement
  • Personal circumstances
  • No one can tell you how or when the intensity of your grief will lessen; only you will know when this happens. It is not unusual for bereaved people to think they are finally moving towards acceptance only to experience the strong and often unwelcome emotions they experienced shortly after the death.
  • Life will never be the same again after bereavement, but the grief and pain should lessen. There should come a time when you are able to adapt and adjust and cope with life without the person who has died. When a person we are close to dies we can find meaning in life again, but without forgetting their meaning for us. 

Not everyone experiences grief 

  • For some people, the death of a close friend or relative is a relief, especially if the person suffered or had a drawn-out death. Try not to assume how someone is feeling.
  • First of all, check with the person. Ask them how they're coping with the death of their relative or friend. This allows the person to tell you how they're grieving, or whether they're ok.
  • You may not feel comfortable with their response, but it's important to let the person cope in their own way
  • Knowing how they're coping can open up more honest conversations.

Feelings when someone dies

You may feel a number of things immediately after a death:

Shock

It may take you a long time to grasp what has happened. The shock can make you numb, and some people at first carry on as if nothing has happened. It is hard to believe that someone important is not coming back. Many people feel disorientated - as if they have lost their place and purpose in life or are living in a different world.

Pain

Feelings of pain and distress following bereavement can be overwhelming and very frightening.

Anger

Sometimes bereaved people can feel angry. This anger is a completely natural emotion, typical of the grieving process. Death can seem cruel and unfair, especially when you feel someone has died before their time or when you had plans for the future together. We may also feel angry towards the person who has died, or angry at ourselves for things we did or didn’t do or say to the person before their death.

Guilt

Guilt is another common reaction. People who have been bereaved of someone close often say they feel directly or indirectly to blame for the person’s death. You may also feel guilt if you had a difficult or confusing relationship with the person who has died, or if you feel you didn’t do enough to help them when they were alive.

Depression

Many bereaved people experience feelings of depression following the death of someone close. Life can feel like it no longer holds any meaning and some people say they too want to die.

Longing

Thinking you are hearing or seeing someone who has died is a common experience and can happen when you least expect it. You may find that you can't stop thinking about the events leading up to the death. "Seeing" the person who has died and hearing their voice can happen because the brain is trying to process the death and acknowledge the finality of it.