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Coping with Grief

Grief is a normal process that we all experience following a loss. People react to loss in different ways. Grief is very individual.

This section describes some of the feelings that might affect how you think and behave when you are grieving. You might be surprised by your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Not everyone will experience all of these. You may feel some more strongly than others, and they may come in any order or be mixed up together.

There is no time limit for the feelings associated with grief – for some people it is a matter of months, for others, years. You need to give yourself time to adjust and re-engage in life in the absence of the person who died.


Thoughts and Feelings Associated with Grief

You may feel numb at first. You may experience feelings of shock and disbelief, even if the death was expected. It may feel unreal – you may feel you cannot accept that your loved one has died. This is a normal reaction that protects you from the reality of your loss.

It is not uncommon to feel guilty. For example, you may feel guilty for things you think you should have or should not have said or done. You may experience a feeling of disloyalty when you find yourself pursuing new or old interests.

You may feel angry at the person who died. You may blame other family members or the professionals involved in the care of your loved one. Depending on your faith or beliefs, you may question ‘why’ this was allowed to happen.

Part of grieving is trying to make sense of something that seems senseless. You may find yourself thinking ‘If only…’

If you have lost someone who has been a big part of your life, your home may seem very empty. The feeling of isolation can be painfully strong. You may feel sorry for yourself.

Longing can be a big part of grief. Some describe this feeling as similar to ‘losing your mind’. For instance, you may look for your loved one in a crowd; you may think you have seen them or even heard their voice, even though you know that they are dead.

People respond differently to bereavement; even members from the same family respond in different ways. Everyone has their own way of grieving and how they show and cope with their feelings can be very different; this can be difficult for others to understand.

It is common to have feelings of sadness and depression. These should lessen with time. If however, the feelings get stronger and you are unable to carry out normal tasks or you experience suicidal thoughts, then it is important for you to seek specialist help. The usual way to access this is through your GP. You can also access help through Lifeline which provides 24-hour support for those in distress. Telephone Freephone 0808 808 8000 or access at Lifeline | Lifeline Helpline.


Physical and Behavioural Changes

You may feel tired but can’t sleep. You may feel hungry but unable to eat. You may have difficulty concentrating and be easily distracted or forgetful. You may find yourself in a state of panic or viewing simple problems out of proportion. You may feel run down and lethargic or have aches and pains that you don’t normally have. This can be a normal part of the grieving process. You may find that friends and neighbours sometimes avoid you. This is because they do not know what to say or they are finding it difficult to cope with their own feelings of loss. It may help if you take the first step by letting them know that you would appreciate their friendship and support.

Seek advice from your GP if you are concerned

It might seem that life would be more bearable if you made drastic changes to avoid painful memories, such as moving house or disposing of your loved one’s belongings. Try to avoid doing this at an early stage in your loss. There will come a time when it is right for you to make such important decisions.


Talking to Someone

It is important to take care of yourself. One of the most helpful things can be to talk about the person who has died. Only you can decide who would be most helpful to speak to. It could be:

  • A family member
  • A friend
  • Your faith/belief representative
  • Your GP
  • Someone from a support organisation

Further details of support organisations can be found on the Helplines Page.

Try to:

  • Talk about the person who has died.
  • Look after yourself. Eat properly and try to rest even if you can’t sleep.
  • Give yourself time and permission to grieve.
  • Seek help and support if you feel you need it.
  • Tell people what you need.

Try not to:

  • Isolate yourself or keep emotions bottled up.
  • Think you are weak for needing help.
  • Feel guilty if you are struggling to cope.
  • Turn to drugs or alcohol as the relief will only be temporary.

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