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Understanding grief and self-help in bereavement

At some time in our life we will all inevitably lose someone who is close to us. This is a very difficult time even when the death is expected following a long illness. When the loss is unexpected and sudden this can be even more traumatic particularly when circumstances mean it may be very difficult to grieve properly with family and friends.

We have put together some information that might help you understand your feelings and provide some ideas for looking after yourself. There are links below to very useful websites that provide more in-depth advice and information.


Effects of Grief

Grief is a normal response to the loss of a loved one and is felt differently by everyone. These feelings can often take people by surprise and include feeling overwhelmed, numb, angry, apathetic, anxious, or weepy. You might also struggle to sleep or lose your appetite. You may experience some of these emotions at different times and they may even come out when you least expect them. People from within the same family may react very differently to the loss of the same person.


Stages of Grief

First few days: This is an extremely emotional time for you, your family, and friends. You may feel numb with shock; overwhelmed; angry with yourself, your loved one or medical professionals; guilty or even relieved if the death has followed a long period of illness. Emotional pain may make it difficult for you to carry on with your life and you may feel useless, anxious, and deep sadness. This is natural and feelings may well change once the initial period of coping with the practicalities of funerals has passed, support from family and friends starts to fade and you face the challenges of living without your loved one. Grief may also have been delayed owing to the difficulties in mourning and celebrating the life of your loved one alongside your family and friends during the Covid pandemic.

During the first year: Life changes a lot over this first year. You may feel a roller coaster of emotions, sometimes coping well and at others overwhelmed. Each activity, birthday or anniversary experienced without your partner or loved one by your side will be challenging and emotional. According to The Bereavement Advice Centre “Over time the less bad days do begin to outnumber the really bad days although this may feel impossible to imagine at the beginning. Many people find inner strength that enables them to come through this experience still very much missing the person who has gone but able to remember them and enjoy life again.”

Over time you will learn to cope with these feelings and to recognise the places and things that trigger your emotions. It is important at all stages that you ask for support when you need it. At first this may be from close family and friends but over time you may feel the need to speak to people who have gone through a similar experience and a peer support group may be more suitable. If feelings of depression, poor health or sleeping patterns continue do not hesitate to seek help from your GP or medical professionals. It is important that you do what is right for you at the right time and some of the ideas below may offer some ideas to help you cope and move on.


Self-help in bereavement

Self-help during bereavement can help you in mind, body, and spirit. It can help you cope and re-engage with your life in a meaningful way. Give yourself space to feel the pain of grief and give yourself permission to take a break when you need it. Don’t feel like you need to do everything below at once. Just start by doing one or two that feel “doable.” In a few days, try one more.

  1. Be kind to yourself:Grief is painful. Self-compassion has tremendous healing power. Treat yourself as you'd treat a valued friend, in a positive but honest way. Try using positive affirmations such as: look in the mirror and say to yourself “I care about you”.
  2. Manage your stress levels: There are many forms of meditation to help with grief. This includes prayer, guided visualization, yoga, mindfulness, focus and breath practices (breathing exercise for stress). This fully focuses your mind on the present moment, which can stimulate your mental well-being. For example, close your eyes and take three long breaths—focus on creating a nice long exhale (breath out). Spend the next few minutes just focusing on your natural breath. The frequency with which you practice is more important than the length of your individual session. Start with two to five minutes a day.
  3. Enjoy yourself: Doing things that you enjoy; this is good for your emotional wellbeing. Simple activities like having a soak in the bath or phoning friends for a chat. Doing something you're good at such as cooking, painting, or gardening will give you a sense of achievement.
  4. Have a healthy lifestyle: This is tough for some of us even when we are not grieving, but now is the time to tend to your body with regular healthy meals. Drink plenty of water, as it will help your physical and mental state. Avoid alcohol, as it can upset your sleep pattern and depress your mood.
  5. Do some exercise: Even moderate exercise releases chemicals in your brain that can lift your mood. Choose an exercise that you enjoy. It will help your body release the tension and pain that comes with grief. Whether you take a leisurely stroll outside, do some gardening or practice yoga, exercise will contribute to better sleep and an overall sense of well-being.
  6. Get enough sleep: You may be experiencing grief-related insomnia. Around 7 to 8 hours is the average amount of sleep an adult needs for their body and mind to fully rest. If you are sleeping more than you did before your loss, know that this, is normal, and may be exactly what you need. Increasing your exposure to sunlight will lift our mood.
  7. Talk and share: This is important, whether it's with a friend, family member or counsellor. Talking things through helps you to release tension, rather than keeping it inside. It helps strengthen your relationships and connections with people. Sometimes when we are grieving we feel like our existing support system has fallen apart, so consider joining a peer support group online, in person, by letter, or schedule an appointment with a grief counsellor.
  8. Build your resilience: This allows you to cope with life's ups and downs. Join a support group or make something creative out of your negative emotions. For example, put your thoughts and feelings into word and pictures. Write a daily journal or make a collage to express your grief with magazines and glue sticks. Crafting activities, such as knitting and drawing in adult colouring books, can help you focus and activate the creative side of your brain, which can contribute to a better sense of well-being.
  9. Get A Check-Up:When you are grieving, your risk for illness increases due to stress. And while grief is a natural reaction to loss, and not an illness itself, this is a good time good time to check in with a healthcare professional. This check-up will give you the opportunity to attend to any pre-existing health conditions that the stress of grief could negatively impact.

We have put together the following list of websites and phone numbers.  These provide practical information on finances, emotional support and information on how the way the pandemic is affecting the way we are able to show bereavement and grief. Please call our Customer Services Team on 0300 303 1234 for details of local support groups.

We are also sharing some ideas as to how individuals can use social media to come together to celebrate the life of a loved one and continue to support each other.


Financial Support

Click here to find out more about state bereavement payments and additional information on what to do when someone passes away.


The Bereavement Register:
020 7089 6403 or 0800 082 1230 (24-hour automated registration service)

Click here to find out more about this service which has been specifically designed to remove names and addresses of people who have died from databases and mailing files.


Practical advice and support

Click here to read the Age UK information booklets. “What to do when someone dies,” “How to be an executor", “Bereavement”.

Use this directory to help find support near you.

Click here or use the links below to find out more about information and virtual support groups.


Ways social media can help you and your family to commemorate a loved one and stay in touch as a group.

The following technology allows individuals to get together in groups over their laptops, tablets or phones.

Microsoft Teams: Allows individuals to invite each other to a group video chat across multiple platforms including Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices.  Simple to use and can be used with video switched on or off. Click here to download teams.

Zoom: Zoom allows you to connect across multiple devices like Teams. Free for personal use up to 100 participants. Ensure you set up as a closed group. Click here to sign up for Zoom.

Facebook: Set up a closed group page and keep in contact with the people you know. Click here to sign up for Facebook.

Whatsapp: Set up a group text chat over the phone, voice or video call your contacts across multiple platforms. Click here to download Whatsapp.