We will all experience bereavement and grief at some point in our lives. Grieving is a normal, natural and necessary process involving a range of feelings and emotions as we gradually adjust to losing someone important. It is thought that the grief process allows us to:
- accept that your loss is real
- experience the pain of grief
- adjust to life without the person who has died
- put less emotional energy into grieving and putting it into something new
As death and bereavement are rarely talked about in daily life, it can be hard to know what ‘normal’ grief is like. In addition, because some of the emotions are very intense and unfamiliar, some people wonder if what they are experiencing is different or unusual. Your grief process will be unique to you and there is no ‘right’ way to grieve. However, there are common reactions to grief; these can occur in different orders, in differing intensity and may overlap and not all be experienced by everybody.
Common reactions to grieving
- Numbness and shock –this can occur even if the death is expected and may last for several weeks
- Yearning or longing to be with the deceased -Many people experience an intense emotional pain in the chest or gut. It can be difficult to relax, concentrate or sleep
- Anger or protest - this can be experienced towards others for not preventing the death, for not doing enough, or towards the deceased for ‘leaving others behind’
- Guilt - can be experienced over things left unsaid or not done, wishing that things could have been done differently. It is common to feel guilty at the sense of relief that is often felt that the deceased person is no longer suffering
- Depression or agitation - this is usually strongest shortly after the death but is followed by times of quiet sadness, withdrawal and silence. There can be a strong desire to reminisce and spend time with memorabilia
- Waves of intense grief - These can occur at any time, triggered by people, places or things that bring back memories of the deceased. They can sometimes feel overwhelming and some people may feel that they cannot cope. However, usually these intense waves become less intense and less frequent
- Diminished interest in everyday life - as this is a time of intense emotion and pain, it is natural to withdraw and spend time alone and not feel like seeing anyone
- Mixed Feelings - Sometimes we may have had a difficult relationship with the deceased and this can lead to a mix of feelings all at once that can leave us confused or guilty
Over time, the intensity of early bereavement begins to fade. The depression lessens and it is possible to think about other things again and look to the future. The sense of having lost a part of oneself never goes away entirely but it is possible to move forward in life. Most people recover from a major bereavement within one or two years; the timing varies for everyone and could be much less or longer.
Do I need additional help?
- For the vast majority of people, with time they will overcome their grief with the support of friends or family, with no additional support being required
- If someone is struggling with their grief, it may be enough to meet people and talk with others who have been through the same experience by attending informal support groups or by reading self-help information
- For people who are still finding it difficult to cope after several months, it can help to meet with a bereavement counsellor
- If depression becomes an issue affecting appetite, energy and sleep, it may be helpful to meet with your GP
- Complicated grief is described here
The Good Grief Trust signposts resources for different types of grief, and has a wealth of books, articles and videos by the bereaved for the bereaved.
Cruse also has a really easy to use signposting page for a range of different losses.