How to cope with a bereavement

Coping with bereavement

Everyone deals differently with the loss of a loved one. There is no right way or wrong way of coping with bereavement, but we have created this step-by-step guide to offer some advice to help you and those around you come to terms with some of the feelings you might experience following a bereavement.

1. Manage your feelings

After the death of a loved one, it is completely normal to react, mentally and physically, to the loss. You may feel numb or in shock. You might feel angry or guilty or agitated. Alternatively, you may become extremely sad, depressed and even empty. Your feelings are all part of the grieving process and are part of coping with bereavement. Loss affects us in many different ways and you may find yourself feeling one, or all of, or none of these feelings as you deal with your loss.

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2. Begin to help yourself

Once you have recognised the negative feelings that come after the death of a loved one, there are things that you can do to help yourself. It is vital that you take everything one day at a time, keeping to some sort of routine and remembering to take care of yourself. You may choose to try to keep busy, or you may choose to set time aside to reflect on your own emotions. Some may find solace in writing down their feelings. Remember that different things help different people through the grieving process.

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3. Start helping others

Although you are dealing with a bereavement yourself, you are likely to encounter people who have also been affected by the death of your loved one. People cope with grief in different ways and that can create stress within a family. At times you may need to offer them support in dealing with their grief. Listening, giving people space and offering practical help like cooking meals can help. At other times you may need to give them space.

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4. Consider getting help

After the death of a loved one, there is only so much that you can do to help yourself. If you are worried that you are not feeling any better while coping with bereavement, you should know that you are not alone. Getting help from others can be as simple as making the effort to talk with friends and family, or it may help to visit your GP or a support group. There are websites and online therapists dedicated to helping you too, as well as hotlines and online communities. You may not need to get help, but it is there if you need it.

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5. Start moving forward

After the death of a loved one or a close relative, you may feel pressure to move on quickly and leave the grief and sadness of the death in the past. You should feel absolutely no obligation to move on; take things day by day and gradually adjust to life without your friend, relative or partner.

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6. Remembering

When enough time has elapsed, you may want to think about ways that you can remember the loved one you have lost. Remembering can take many forms, from setting up a tribute fund, to organising the creation of a plaque or memorial. Even little things like looking through photo albums or sharing stories can help with your memories. There will be times when remembering is harder than others and feelings of sadness return. This is normal and just a sign of how much your loved one is missed.

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Your feelings

People often find that they struggle to come to terms with and accept the loss of a close friend, a family member or a partner. Sometimes, it is difficult to believe that their death is real. A sense of longing may fill you and you might dream that your loved one is still alive or imagine that they will be in a room that you walk into. Don’t be afraid of these feelings of disbelief – they usually pass when you start to talk about your loss with other people and really begin coping with bereavement.

Try not to feel like you are not allowed to get angry; sometimes you need to vent your frustration to make yourself feel better while effectively coping with bereavement. Those close to you will understand if you get worked up and will not judge you for it.

Sadness is the most common feeling to experience after the passing of a loved one and you may have periods where you can’t help but cry. Remember that this sadness may not go away instantly, nor should you expect it to; it is perfectly normal. When you lose someone, who mattered a lot in your life, it’s okay to cry and let your emotions show – it happens to everyone.

Helping yourself

You may find that, as you grieve for your loved one and are coping with bereavement, you feel so upset and depressed that you begin to fall out of routine and fail to look after yourself properly. You may lack the motivation to eat, sleep and take care of your personal hygiene, but it is important to look after yourself. Try getting out of the house – a change of scenery can often help you feel better.

You may find yourself trying to fight your feelings, but sometimes this can make things worse. Allow yourself some time to grieve. Cry if you need to; crying is an important part of the grieving process and can help you to feel better. Try writing down your feelings, as the act of writing can make the grieving process easier for some people. Note down anything you are feeling yourself or how you feel about your loved one. List your memories and reflections.

The most important thing is to be patient and understand that you won’t get over your loss without time. They say time is a great healer, but there are no rules for grieving. For some people, it may take weeks to recover some sense of normality; for others it can take years.

Helping others

People who have lost a close relative, friend or partner often want to talk about them and one of the best ways to help is to simply listen. If you don’t live close by, call them or send an email. Let them know you are there for them, especially around special anniversaries that can be particularly difficult while coping with bereavement.

Within a family, you will need to navigate the needs of those around you while coping with your own feelings. Talking as a group can help, but it is important to allow people the space to grieve – if they don’t want to talk, don’t try to make them. Just let them know you are there to listen if they need you. Offering specific practical help, like doing shopping or cooking meals, can be a real help.

People may think children are too young to understand the full implications of death, but they suffer from grief just like adults and to try to ignore or make light of their feelings can be damaging. Regardless of age, people benefit from talking about their feelings and knowing that they have the support to understand their emotions. Remember to speak in a way that is suited to a young person’s age and level of understanding.

Getting help

In most cases, you won’t be the only person affected by the death of a loved one. It may feel difficult to talk about your feelings, but getting in touch with other relatives or close friends of the deceased can allow you to support each other while coping with bereavement.

You may feel that a chat with friends or family is not enough. If you make an appointment with your GP, they can talk through your feelings and may prescribe medicine to help you sleep. They could consider prescribing anti-depressants or refer you to a grief counsellor specifically trained to help you through the grieving process.

Your GP can also put you in touch with people who have had similar experiences and offer help through a support group. There are plenty of support groups out there for you to meet up regularly with people who share your experiences. But if these don’t work for your schedule, or you would rather not meet face to face, online communities can offer the same sort of support.

Above all else, never feel afraid to ask for help if you think you need it if you are currently coping with bereavement.

Moving forward

You might want to, or feel like you have to, get back to work as quickly as possible. This may be for financial reasons or for personal reasons, but you should not rush this process. If finances are a concern, you could be eligible for bereavement benefit, which you can check on the Government website.

It’s important to realise that going back to work is a huge step to take and, although you may feel ready to return in the days following the death of your loved one, you should take your time. Your managers and colleagues should understand, as everyone will go through the process of grief at some point while coping with bereavement.

In the following years, birthdays, anniversaries or festive periods may be difficult. At these times, you may feel especially sad, but you can use these to celebrate and remember your loved one. It can be helpful to spend time with friends and family who can offer you support when you need it. If you are struggling with social events after your loved one has passed away, you should not be afraid to invite family and friends along as support.

Remembering

Memories can be hard, and you may get upset remembering the person you have lost. But good memories can help with the healing process and allow you to celebrate the life of your loved one, rather than mourning their death.

Some people create a personal ‘Memories’ book or, at the funeral service and reception, have a book for guests to share their memories of the deceased. When times get tough, it can be comforting to look through these books and remember happy times, especially while coping with bereavement. It is also possible to have your loved one’s social media accounts memorialised, allowing friends and family to continue to share memories of the deceased online.

People also set up memorial funds in the name of a person who has died, usually to raise money and awareness for charities fighting the disease that they suffered from. Collections often take place at the funeral service, but some charities offer help with arranging memorial funds and events. These serve the dual purpose of being an occasion to celebrate the life of your loved one separate from the funeral and raising money for a good case.

Sources

Cancer Research UK Coping with grief
Cruse Bereavement Care How to help someone bereaved
Macmillan Cancer Support Tribute funds
Macmillan Cancer Support Moving on
Sue Ryder How can I cope with bereavement?
Which? Coping with bereavement