Coping with bereavement
Bereavement affects people in different ways. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.
You might feel a lot of emotions at once, or feel you’re having a good day, then you wake up and feel worse again, it’s like waves on a beach. You can be standing in water up to your knees and feel you can cope, then suddenly a big wave comes and knocks you off your feet.
Stages of bereavement or grief
Experts generally accept there are four stages of bereavement:
- accepting that your loss is real
- experiencing the pain of grief
- adjusting to life without the person who has died
- putting less emotional energy into grieving and putting it into something new – in other words, moving on
You’ll probably go through all these stages, but you won’t necessarily move smoothly from one to the next. Your grief might feel chaotic and out of control, but these feelings will eventually become less intense.
Feelings of grief
Give yourself time – these feelings will pass. You might feel:
- shock and numbness – this is usually the first reaction to the death, and people often speak of being in a daze
- overwhelming sadness, with lots of crying
- tiredness or exhaustion
- anger – for example, towards the person who died, their illness, or God
- guilt – for example, guilt about feeling angry, about something you said or didn’t say, or about not being able to stop your loved one dying
These feelings are all perfectly normal. The negative feelings don’t make you a bad person. Lots of people feel guilty about their anger, but it’s okay to be angry and to question why.
Some people become forgetful and less able to concentrate…you lose things such as your keys. This is because your mind is distracted by bereavement and grief…you’re not losing your sanity.
Coping with grief
Talking and sharing your feelings with someone can help. Don’t go through this alone. For some people, relying on family and friends is the best way to cope.
A bereavement counsellor can give you time and space to talk about your feelings, including the person who has died, your relationship, family, work, fears and the future.
Talking about the person who has died
Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has died. People in your life might not mention their name because they don’t want to upset you. But if you feel you can’t talk to them, it can make you feel isolated.
Anniversaries and special occasions can be hard. Do whatever you need to do to get through the day. This might be taking a day off work or doing something that reminds you of that person, such as taking a favourite walk.
If you need help to move on
Each bereavement is unique, and you can’t tell how long it will last. In general, the death and the person might not constantly be at the forefront of your mind after around 18 months.. This period may be shorter or longer for some people, which is normal.
Your GP or a bereavement counsellor can help if you feel you’re not coping. Some people also get support from a religious minister.
You might need help if:
- you can’t get out of bed
- you neglect yourself or your family – for example, you don’t eat properly
- you feel you can’t go on without the person you’ve lost
- the emotion is so intense it’s affecting the rest of your life – for example, you can’t face going to work or you’re taking your anger out on someone else
These feelings are normal – as long as they don’t last for a long time. The time to get help depends on the person.
If these things last for a period that you feel is too long or your family say they’re worried, that’s the time to seek help. Your GP can refer you, and they can monitor your general health.
For more information about mood and related issues, the following resources may be helpful.
Mood Disorders Society of Canada. https://mdsc.ca/about-us/
Anxiety Disorders Association of America. www.adaa.org
The Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety. www.canmat.org
Obsessive Compulsive Association. www.ocfoundation.org
The Anxiety Network. www.anxietynetwork.com
Source: Information adapted from the National Health Service (UK) open licence.