Coping with bereavement

The death of a loved one can be devastating. Bereavement counsellor Sarah Smith describes some of the feelings that can arise from losing someone, and where you can go for help and support.

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,” says Sarah, who works at Trinity Hospice in London. She says powerful feelings can come unexpectedly. “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.”

Experts generally accept that 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. Give yourself time, as they 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,” says Sarah. “The negative feelings don’t make you a bad person. Lots of people feel guilty about their anger, but it’s OK to be angry and to question why.”

She adds that some people become forgetful and less able to concentrate. You might lose things, such as your keys. This is because your mind is distracted by bereavement and grief, says Sarah. You're not losing your sanity.

The GOV.UK website has information on what to do after someone dies, such as registering the death and planning a funeral.

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. But if you don’t feel you can talk to them much (perhaps you aren't close, or they're grieving too), you can contact local bereavement services through your GP, local hospice, the national Cruse helpline on 0844 477 9400 or a local Cruse centre.

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. You can have access to a bereavement counsellor at any time, even if the person you lost died a long time ago.

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. Sarah suggests doing 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,” says Sarah. This period may be shorter or longer for some people, which is normal.

Your GP or a bereavement counsellor can help if you feel that 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,” says Sarah. “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.”

Some people turn to alcohol or drugs during difficult times. Get help cutting down on alcohol, or see the Frank website for information on drugs.

Pre-bereavement care

If someone has an incurable illness, they and their loved ones can prepare for bereavement. “Practical things can help, such as discussing funeral arrangements together and making a will,” says Sarah.

Bereavement counsellors also offer pre-bereavement care, helping patients and their family cope with their feelings. This can be especially important for children, Sarah explains. “Children’s stress levels are at their highest before their family member dies, so support during this time is important.”

Find out more about children and bereavement from the Childhood Bereavement Network.

Adult bereavement

The death of a loved one can be devastating. Watch how Penny, who was widowed in 2005, coped with the sudden death of her husband. Also get advice from a bereavement counsellor about how to deal with your emotions and where to find support.

Media last reviewed: 21/09/2012

Next review due: 21/09/2014

Page last reviewed: 03/07/2014

Next review due: 03/07/2016

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Comments

The 21 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Tweet60 said on 20 October 2014

I have read these comments and I want to thank each of you for sharing your pain - it helps to know that other people are like me struggling to "move on". What all these messages reflect back to me though is love..how loved these people we have lost have been...and how loved they made us feel...I take great comfort from that.
I lost my darling Smudge May 26th 2014, he collapsed and died whilst out walking. Something broke inside me when the police told me...I felt it go like..you know when you have broken a limb.
I have tried so hard to hold it all together, & I finally came away alone to our holiday home in Turkey fora holiday..and I am crying every day...its almost like a continual leak!. It feels like I am being self pitying but I only do it in private..like a guilty secret..what is that about? Now I know what a howl of anguish sounds like...because finally I can SCREAM and noone can hear me. I am writing this with tears streaming down my face and I dont know why...I am not a weepy person usually....will this EVER stop.? How do I get a grip??.

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Jvo said on 19 October 2014

I lost my husband in July2014 he had mnd this is the most horrible illness to have to watch the person you love so much getting slowley worse everyday not able to talk swallow and walk is awful for someone who had been so active all his life he never complained and smiled everyday he was taken from me very suddendly due to a reaction to antibiotics was dead within four hours of being given them.
It's something I feel I will never get over my life feels so empty without him the house is so empty everyday the same just trying to get through each day is so hard but I know I must try for his sake because he was such a wonderful husband dad and granfer and I know he wouldn't want me to be like this but it's not easy

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sweetbud said on 10 October 2014

@Chillibean-I made an account just to reply to your post. ..I'm sending you some love sweetheart....I can totally relate to everything you have said, I am feeling the same way and reading your post made me feel that it must be ok to feel like that....Your darling bear is still loving you BIG... My lush furry fella .......I can't say it,but it happened on the 8th August 2014...I'm so sorry you have to feel the way you are feeling right now girl, I think I am feeling the same..... no words can console you I know but I am thinking of you Chillibean xxx

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Chillibean said on 25 September 2014

My Beautiful Paul, my soul mate, my best friend - the love of my life, passed away on 19th August 2014. Im totally lost without him. Im still madly in love with him - am I allowed to be? I still feel his love radiating through me and I take some comfort in knowing that whilst I cant see my darling bear, I cant hear him nor can I touch him I can feel him - I feel his presence, i feel his love in my heart. The pain none the less in unbearable at times. Im trying to cope by feeling that our relationship has just taken on a different form and he is in a different place that I dont have access to. Im still very much part of a couple. Is it healthy to feel like this?

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veronica 12 said on 04 September 2014

msjade93 I empathise with you.

My beautiful husband of 40 years died June 2013. People told me once I get through the 'firsts' such as birthdays, anniversaries things would get better How can things get better? I don't think I will recover but will learn to get along without him. You are right time is a good healer.

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msjade93 said on 28 July 2014

its a year tommorrow since my fiancee died , the pain of loosing him is coming back to me , the memroies we made together are all coming back , its been the hardest year of my life, i have found time is the greatest healer

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Catian said on 14 July 2014

Its been almost 2 years since I lost my Dad, he was my rock and the parent who raised me. Since the day after his passing, I have suffered from panic/anxiety/severe depression and I'm also now an agoraphobic. I take anti depressants but they only help with certain aspects of my grief. I am waiting to see a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and I just hope that this will help me. According to my Counsellor, I'm stuck in the first stage of grief and my brain has shielded itself from any more pain. It feels to me as if I only lost my Dad 2 weeks ago, the pain is still so raw. I am tired of people telling me to move on as I just can't...I need help badly.

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Annie78 said on 14 July 2014

My mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a few years ago. She suffered dreadfully throughout this horrifying illness due to surgery, chemotherapy, recurring ascites and abdominal drains, sickness, lethargy etc. She spent the last 5 months of her life in our local hospice where she gradually deteriorated until her death on 13 February 2014...She was 54 years old. She fought the whole way through and was positive and enjoyed the time she had left when she felt well. Since her death my emotions have been all over the place. I find myself crying at he most random times and have to hide in work at times because I can't hold it in. I had to back to work a day after the funeral because I don't get paid when i'm off. Although this has been a positive distraction, I feel I need some time to grieve, scream, cry and come to terms with my loss. My mother in law also died suddenly 3 weeks before my mum so my husband and I are both facing the exact same thing and finding it hard to communicate with each other as it won't change anything. I'm struggling to sleep because every time I close my eyes I see her and keep imagining what it must have been like for her to lie there for all those months waiting to die while trying to remain strong for us. I fell like i'm living in a horrible dream and am just going through the day to day motions. I feel depressed and cheated. How do you begin to come to terms with the fact that you'll never see your mum again?? She done so much for us. Nothing was real until I told her. She kept us all together, I miss her so much.

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Magentas said on 11 June 2014

my partner died on the 14th May 2014 aged 60. He went out to work and didn't come home. there was no illness or any indication and literally just dropped down dead at work . I had that awful knock at the door by the Police.
I have been through the post mortem and funeral but the shock and disbelief is overwhelming and I am still sort of holding on to some hope that this is all a nasty joke . I have just returned to work also but feel like I am operating in a slow motion fog. i think there is the expectation that things settle down after the funeral but they dont seem too.
The suddeness and shock feels totally different to my mother who when diagnosed with cancer died within 4 weeks. the world carries on around me but I am not part of it. it feels scary and lonely, I have no routine i miss him so much our day to day life that just blended into one.
You hear about these things but never think they will happen .
Someone told me that sudden grief feels like you have just come out of intensive care, the pain is definitely physical .. sickness, aches, tiredness like I have never experienced.
I am also so forgetful about everything .. all part of the symptoms of grief and bereavement apparently ... .I know I have to piece things back together but at the moment it feels like an impossible task ... to anyone in the same situ .. look after yourself and know you are not alone.

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User41364 said on 25 May 2014

My mum died from breast cancer in January 2013. She was in hospital for several weeks but even though she knew the prognosis she didn't tell me that she only had a few months left to live. When I eventually found out from a doctor, that she was dying, I told her I knew and she was relieved that she didn't have to tell me.

She came out of hospital in late July and was very happy and cheerful, pottering around the house and garden. In early October she became bedridden and was given 24 hr care, which I found out was 'end of life care'. My sister moved in with her and so did my brother in law and their children.

As I said, my dear 80 yr old mum, died in January 2013. Not long after, I had a huge fall out with my sister and we have not spoken since. Not long after that my daughter, who lives with me, went on holiday and left me totally alone for a week.

I am having a lot of issues about the fact that she left me when we should have being supporting each other at such a difficult time and this, I think, has caused my grieving process to be delayed, so much that I am only now beginning the process. None of this is helped by the fact that I can't stand the sight or sound of her boyfriend who she seems to be besotted with.

I suppose I still need time to adjust but I feel so miserable, lost and lonely.

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jordyn said on 13 May 2014

My darling husband died on the 10th April, 2014. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer on 9th January but did not feel ill until 10 days before he died. He was always saying he thought that the diagnosis was incorrect as he felt well. Unfortunately he developed wheezing and breathing difficulties and in the course of 10 days had passed away. This has been hard to accept how quickly we lost him and I still feel in somewhat of a daze. My daughter has done everything from arranging the funeral to ordering cremation rings for us both and keepsakes for her 4 children.

I am dealing with this loss ok during the day but find that when I close the curtains at night and am truly on my own I feel desperately lonely. We had been together 53 years and would have celebrated our golden wedding anniversary on the 13th June, 2014. I was only 15 when we met and cannot remember a time when he was not in my life.

It helps to write about him as he was a wonderful person and I could not have wished for a more loving husband. Perhaps it will get better in time but at the moment I seriously doubt it.

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Paula75 said on 29 April 2014

I am so sorry to hear about you losing your beautiful mum. I lost my mom last year. It hasn't got any easier yet I'm afraid. I am in the same situation as you. Keeping my dad going and people forget i lost my mom and ask me how my dad is. Hello I'm the one without a mom. As for friends you do find out who is there for you and who isn't i found that out the hard way. My perfect mom was only 63 and i wanted her for a whole lot longer. Maybe it does get easier but for me a year on I'm still struggling. Sending you lots of love.xxx

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Nade1975 said on 26 April 2014

My beautiful, wonderful Mum died 28th March 2014 at 6.30 p.m aged 64. My Dad, me and my older sister were with her and for a while I could not get that image out of my head. She had cancer diagnosed in September 2013 and had breathing difficulties when she was sent home to die. I didn't want her to die but I didn't want to watch her suffer any longer so kept willing God to take her. I loved her or than anything or anyone in my life and I think of her all the time. My sister and dad have fallen out a couple of times as they manage their emotions in such different ways and I feel like I am in the middle. I am angry with God for taking someone so precious and selfless. I just try to take each day as it comes and go with however I am feeling. I have found out who my true friends are. I have struggled as my poor dad's grief is so overwhelming and I get fed up with everyone asking how he is and telling me to look after him but not asking how I am after losing my Mum. I just want to hug you all and let you know that I understand your pain. Maybe one day I will look at it and say "at least I had 39 years of having her in my life". Right now, I can honestly say that if I died tomorrow I would be so happy to be with her again. I love you so much Mum.

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Cherrypd said on 21 April 2014

Hi, I think this is the first step to try to deal with my lovely mums sudden death. I moved to the mainland last year, however I've been back home a few times to see my mum. I flew back to surprise her a couple of days before her 79th birthday on the 5 April. But on the 6th she callasped and died. I just can't get the images of her being taken in the ambulance and the paramedics pounding on her chest out of my mind. I simply don't know what to do, I'm lost, numb and don't think I'm coping very well as I'm ok one minute then next minute I can become withdrawn and end up crying. I miss her so much, can someone help me please.

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dannii_ said on 02 April 2014

In reply to Saffron2412: I lost my mum 5 years ago when I was 15. It's been a struggle but I'm getting there. I was sitting my GCSE's at the time and didn't do very well. Then by some miracle, I've managed to go to college get 2 diploma's and now I'm in my 2nd year of university training to be a Nurse. Just take each day as it comes. Everyone is different and we all have different coping mechanisms. It just takes time. Take care.

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Lozstar said on 10 February 2014

My Mum died in December 2012. It was horrendous. She died from skin cancer at age 61. She didn’t tell anyone she was ill, had not had any treatment and went from a healthy, robust woman to dead in 5 weeks. She was in hospital for only 10 days. What made it even harder to deal with was that she really didn’t want my sisters, brother or me there. And, until the day before she died we didn’t know what was wrong with her as she wouldn’t let the doctors tell us! The last thing she said to us was that she wished she could just go to sleep and never wake up, and could we go now. It was literally the worst thing I have ever been through. I had (naive as this sounds) never even considered that my Mum could die. How silly of me. But she was so there, was never ever ill, and I was looking forward to her being a grumpy old lady, driving us all mad.
To those of you with more recent bereavements I can say that the death of a loved one does get easier to deal with, but, don’t put pressure on yourself to be ‘okay’. You will feel differently from day to day. The first year is very very hard, as anniversaries come and go, birthdays, Christmas, mother’s day (that was not fun), etc. I have been having bereavement counselling for a year and without this I would be a wreck! I can really strongly recommend it. It is space to talk about what you are feeling with someone who is kind, but doesn’t feel sorry for you, or sad too, like a family member or friend would. You can also say those awful things that you have to get out there but don’t want to say to anyone else....
My little girl has also helped. She was only 18 months when my Mum died, so can’t even remember her. But she’s a reason to get up in the mornings and helps me to be happy. She will miss out on the best Nana ever, so I have to show her pictures and tell her stories and this really helps.

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KarenL76 said on 04 February 2014

My Dad died in August 2013 after a very long illness. Infact he has been ill all my entire life. My Mum died in 2009 and I seem to deal with that ok. I have 3 children and they always kept me busy, but I think it helped me that my Dad was still around.

But this time i am not coping very well. He was really ill all of last year and with not living so close it took its toll, travelling and not being with my children was hard.

I was not with him when he died and that hurt so much, so maybe I am feeling guilt over that. Since he has died I got married which was one of the hardest days of my life, he was my rock. I always thought he would be there for me.

I have been poorly with one thing or another since getting married and I am now on the mend but I cant stop thinking about him now.

I am feeling so low, it is affecting my work, my family and my relationship with my husband. I am so angry all of the time and I dont know why or who at!

I have suffered from depression in the past and I have been so strong though all of this and I feel that if I go back to the Doctors that I will be giving up.

Its really hard to explain to people and my partner how i feel. He knows I am sad but I think he is surprised that I am still suffering. I just want to be able to think and talk about my Dad and smile not cry and break down.

I do think that I need to go and see the doctor, but I dont want any pills again. I feel so alone and I wish I could see positives at the moment but it is hard. Writing this has helped me realise I need help.

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Dannicov123 said on 03 February 2014

I lost my brother in a car accident 8 weeks ago, I thought I was doing well but Went away with friends at the weekend at had a rough time just kept crying and drank too much. I have good days and really bad days. I hardly know who I am, I'm so emotional sad then angry. Before my brother died we had lost my nan 3 weeks before who we were both extremely close too. I am now thinking of going to counselling as feel this may help. I am feeling a lot of guilt as well and I'm not sure why.

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Saffron2412 said on 17 November 2013

I have recently lost my Mum to cancer, she was 46. I am 17 years old and I am terrified to live without my Mum. It's very easy to say "talk to someone about it" but talking about it is the hardest, a "deep chat" with a friend doesn't even seem to scratch the surface of how you are feeling. Today it has been exactly a month since she passed away, I'm hoping it will get easier soon.

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dannyjk38 said on 23 October 2013

I lost my mum to heart and renal failure in september 2013 and I miss her so much. She was only 66 and it is starting to have a negative impact on my life.

I agree on the fact that you have good days and I feel like I can cope and then other days I'm a complete mess. I'm starting to snap at my fiance and daughter over the most silly of things, I loose concentration easy and work is suffering, I have no energy to do anything apart from to play computer games as it gives me a sense of escapism.

I am aware of how my mood swings are effecting love ones and work collegues and it is starting to have an impact on my life however just putting down in words helps because with me personally, talking to family members only makes the pain worse.

I guess it's time I need to see a councellor which I wouldn't have considered before visiting this website.

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nixyjm said on 05 September 2013

I lost my mum a year ago yesterday (04/09/12 ) and I am still heartbroken, she was young only 73 and had chronic heart failure and kidney failure, she had been so poorly for 2 years since a cabg went wrong and she never really recovered, though im happy her suffering is over my life is stuck in the past. I lost my dad 12 years ago to cancer and mum nursed him at home ... its so hard to live everyday without my parents I miss them so much

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