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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many bereaved people find it hard to concentrate, and feel confused and forgetful. Your thoughts may constantly return to the person who died, with painful questions and fears running through your mind. Alongside this, you may have a sense of relief if they died at what seemed to be the right time for them.
As you think and talk more about the person and listen to what relatives and friends say, you’re likely to start building a fuller picture of them than you had before. As it grows over time, you’ll probably find that this picture becomes a part of your life and a source of comfort.
Cruse Bereavement Care can support you after the death of someone close.
Looking to the future
When you lose someone you love, you can feel that your life doesn’t have much meaning, or that you no longer have anything to offer.
Looking back at your life and taking stock of your contribution to the world can help you to realise that bereavement doesn’t take that away.
Sometimes the people who help most aren’t the obvious ones. There are befriending and other support services in many areas – ask at your place of worship, if you have one, or your local Age UK, doctor’s surgery or local library, or search online for local services.
It’s also important to look forward, however difficult this may be. Whatever your age, you always have something to offer the world. Make the most of every opportunity to spend time with other people, keep in touch with friends and family, have a holiday or volunteer to help out with a good cause.
There are no magic answers. It takes time to regain confidence, feel less overwhelmed by your loss and start to make sense of the world again.
Help and support from others, especially those who have gone through a similar loss, may help you to cope with your bereavement.
Physical effects of bereavement
Physical changes after bereavement can include difficulty getting to sleep, vivid dreams and long periods of wakefulness. You may lose your appetite. Some people feel tense and short of breath, or edgy and restless; others feel slow and lethargic.
You’re likely to feel exhausted, especially if you were caring for the person who died or had been through an anxious time before their death. Strong emotions and dealing with all the things that need to be done after a death can also leave you tired and drained.
Take extra care of yofurself – try to eat well and get some rest even if you can’t sleep. Take gentle exercise if you can. Be kind to yourself – don’t try to do too much while you’re grieving.
Coping with loss
Adjusting to a death is gradual and happens differently for everyone.
Talking about the death and the person who died, dealing with the practicalities of your new situation and trying to think of the present as well as the past can all help you take in the reality of the death.
Memories of other losses
Bereavement can trigger memories of earlier losses that you thought you had coped with. Perhaps you didn’t realise at the time how deeply affected you were, or maybe it was difficult to talk about your feelings. Memories of these unhappy times can come rushing back and this can be extremely distressing.
You may need to mourn these losses and talk about your experiences before you can start to cope with your more recent bereavement. If you need someone to talk to, contact Cruse Bereavement Care, who can provide emotional support after a death.
If you’ve lost a child or grandchild
Compassionate Friends helps people who have lost a child or a grandchild. It is a self-help organisation – parents who have been bereaved themselves offer friendship and support to other bereaved parents, grandparents and their families.
If your grandchild has lost a parent
If your grandchild has lost a parent, you may want to contact Winston’s Wish. They provide support to bereaved children, young people and their families.