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Emotional effects of bereavement

You are probably reading this guide because someone close to you has died recently.

Although bereavement is a highly personal and often distressing event, many people go through a range of recognisable reactions and emotions when someone they are close to dies.

Sometimes people are shocked and upset by their changing and powerful emotions when they are bereaved. Realising that these feelings are quite normal may help.

Grief

Grief may affect you emotionally, physically, mentally and also affect the way you relate to others. If the death was expected, you might be telling yourself you should be able to cope, yet you can’t.

When you’re bereaved, you have to cope with a world that can feel as if it’s fallen apart.

In practical terms, your life may have changed dramatically. You may have less money, and have to eat, sleep and live alone for the first time, or be faced with household tasks that you haven’t done before.

Grief can make you feel many different things. It’s important to remember that these feelings are not bad or wrong. They are a normal part of bereavement.

Emptiness and depression

Feelings of depression and emptiness can hit you when the reality of the death begins to sink in.

Although it may feel almost unbearable at the time, this seems to be a period when some inner healing takes place. Afterwards, people say they feel lighter, more in control of their lives and better able to look forward.

Sadness is a natural response to bereavement, but some people may become depressed. This  can be managed and you should see your doctor for help and advice. You don’t have to try to cope on your own.

If you have thoughts of suicide, talk to your doctor or someone you trust. Remember that you can phone Samaritans, day or night, on 08457 90 90 90.

Anger

You may feel anger at the injustice of your loss, or at the lack of understanding in others.

You might be angry at yourself and at the person who died, who has left you feeling abandoned, frightened and alone.

These feelings are normal. Don’t bottle up your feelings – try to think about the reasons for your anger. Talking about your feelings with someone who isn’t emotionally involved in your loss can help.

Fear

Feeling fearful and anxious is very natural – your familiar world has been turned upside down. You may feel that you have little control over your life, your thoughts and emotions. This is likely to make you feel vulnerable and afraid. But as you get used to coping, you will become more confident.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by fearful thoughts or anxiety, it could help to talk to someone about how you are feeling. 

Mixed feelings

It’s normal to have mixed feelings when someone dies. If the person was sick or in pain you may feel relief as well as sadness when they passed away. This is normal and understandable if you saw someone close to you in pain or discomfort.

If your relationship with them was difficult, this may also lead to mixed feelings about their death. If you suppress upsetting thoughts or feelings, you risk becoming angry, bitter or depressed. It can help to get a better understanding of the relationship by thinking about what was good and what was not, and what you each contributed to it. 

Guilt

Some people experience feelings of guilt when someone dies. You may find yourself wondering if you could have done more to help, or feeling guilty about something you said or didn’t say to them when they were alive.

Guilt is a very natural feeling after bereavement, but it’s important not to dwell on things in the past that you can’t change. Try not to be too hard on yourself or anyone else. 

Worries about practical matters

In addition to the strong emotions that you can experience after a bereavement, you may also have worries about practical issues, such as how to manage on a smaller income and handle household tasks. It’s important to seek advice if you are struggling to manage, so you can get the help you need.

Further information

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For more information: Call Age UK Advice: 0800 169 2081

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