Grief can be overwhelming, messy and exhausting. Finding ways to manage difficult feelings and working through the pain of grief are important in helping to rebuild your life after someone important to you has died. 

Why is it important to grieve?

Grief is a normal and natural response when someone important in your life has died. Bereaved families and individuals tell us that talking about the person who has died helps with their grief and helps them make sense of what has happened. Acknowledging the death, facing the difficult reality of what has happened, and finding ways to express painful feelings, can help in your grieving process in the long term.

How do we grieve?

Research and the experience of bereaved individuals shows that grieving - the emotional process that takes place after someone significant dies - is very important. There is no set path or pattern to this process, as everyone grieves differently.

What is grief like?

Facing reality: When someone important to you dies, you may initially be in a state of shock, even if they were expected to die. There is no right or wrong way to feel; some people might cry and break down or experience physical symptoms. Others may feel numb, display no emotion at all and appear very controlled, calm and detached. Any initial numbness may last several days, and it can be a form of emotional protection which helps people to deal with all the necessary practicalities like coping with the funeral. All these reactions are normal.

The more traumatic the loss, the more prolonged this numbness is likely to be. You may not want to accept what has happened and may cope by denying it or refusing to talk about it. Viewing the body of the person who has died, getting involved in the preparations for the funeral and observing rituals and traditions may help you to face the difficult reality of what has happened.

Experiencing the pain of grief: Once the immediate feelings of shock settle, you may feel overwhelming grief for some time, which can make you feel emotionally drained and physically exhausted. You may find yourself getting upset or angry about things that you wouldn’t normally. A bereaved mother told us she felt that she 'had one layer of skin less' when she was describing how upset she got about things.

As well as feelings of extreme sadness, you may feel guilt, anger or resentment. Many people struggle with guilt or regret about some aspect of their relationship with the person who died, for instance if they had a difficult relationship with them. Some people feel regret for not spending enough time with the person who has died, or left their true feelings unsaid or said things they did not really mean. You may feel anger towards the person for leaving you to cope with life on your own, or perhaps anger at medical staff for not curing the illness or not keeping the person alive, or anger at God (if you have a faith) for letting it happen.

Grief is a normal reaction to death and is not a mental illness, although sleeplessness, anxiety, changes in appetite, fear, anger, and other difficult feelings can feel overwhelming, and people often say it can make them feel as if they’re 'going mad'. These responses are common and can naturally become less frequent over time, however if they are prolonged or become debilitating then it is important to seek support such as from your GP.

Expressing grief is healthy, and attempts to avoid how you feel and to bottle up your emotions can lead to delayed grief and potential issues in the future. If you feel you are suppressing your grief, or your anger or guilt continue for a long time, you may want to consider seeking support from a professional. Finding ways to look after yourself both physically and emotionally are very important.

Adjusting to the new reality: Facing life without someone important to you who has died can be a very difficult and painful process. No one can fill the place they had in your life and each day can bring constant reminders of their absence. Just getting through the day can be a challenging task. The future may seem uncertain or even daunting. It can take many months before you are able to dwell less on the sad events surrounding the death and start to function more as you did before, adjusting to the 'new normal'. 

Maintaining connection and looking to the future: Reinvesting in the future involves learning to live life without the person who has died, while starting to focus on other things. Incorporating other things in your life, especially things you enjoy, can feel like a betrayal. However, being able to face the future is not about forgetting the person who has died, it is about finding ways of remembering and maintaining a connection with them, in ways that comfort you, but which fit in alongside other important things in your life. Read our resource for more on ways to remember someone important to you who has died.

The sadness you feel will remain with you, but it can become part of an adjusted life, and with time and support you can start to look to the future, while still recalling more positive memories. You will slowly start to adjust and you will find you are not as consumed by your grief all the time, but will have more control over when you want to reflect on your relationship with the person who died. It is natural at anniversaries or special occasions for feelings of grief to heighten, or there may be other unexpected triggers that intensify your feelings of grief, making it as vivid as on the day the person died.

Visit our resource for more on looking after yourself when someone has died.

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