For most people bereavement is the most psychologically distressing experience we will ever face. Grief is what we feel when somebody we love dies. The death of a significant person is a devastating loss. Everyone experiences grief differently and there is no ‘normal’ or ‘right’ way to grieve. How we react will be influenced by many different things, including our age and personality, or cultural background and religious beliefs, our previous experiences of bereavement, our circumstances and how we cope with loss.
Feelings we may experience
Feeling that you can’t believe what’s happened or a feeling of numbness or disbelief is very normal when someone close dies. It may take you a long time to grasp what has happened. The shock can make you feel numb or that you’re in a different world. Some people carry on as if nothing has happened. It is hard to believe that someone important is not coming back. Many feel disorientated and almost as if they have lost their place in life.
Physical and mental pain can feel completely overwhelming and very frightening. The pain of bereavement has been compared to that of losing a limb. It doesn’t come back, you will always miss it, but you also learn to adapt to living without it.
Sometimes bereaved people can feel angry. This anger is a completely normal part of the grieving process. Death can seem cruel and unfair, especially when you feel someone has died before their time or when you had plans for the future together.
You may feel guilty about things you said or did, or that you didn’t say or do. It is important to remember that, at the time, you did not have the power of hindsight you possess now.
Many people say there are times after a death when they feel there is nothing worth living for and they feel like ending it all.
Thinking you are hearing or seeing someone who has died is a common experience and can happen when you least expect it, and you may find that you can’t stop thinking about the events leading up to the death.
Other people’s reactions
One of the hardest things to face when we are bereaved is the way other people react to us. They often do not know what to say or how to respond to our loss. This is hard for us because we may well want to talk about the person who has died. It can become especially hard as time goes on and other people’s memories of the dead person fade.
Coping and Adapting
‘They said I’d be over it in a few months’… but many people find it takes much longer to learn to cope without someone to love. ‘One minute I’m angry and the next minute I can’t stop crying’… and many people find the mood swings very frightening.
When someone close to us dies we have to cope and adjust to living in a world which is totally changed. Death is, after all, inevitable: that person is not going to come back. We may have to let go of some dreams built up and shared with the person who has died. ‘Today my life is different as a result of what has happened. The inner strengths that I did not know I possessed have come to light.’
Looking to the Future
Life will never be the same again after a bereavement, but the grief and pain should lessen, and there will come a time when you are able to adapt and adjust, and cope with life without the person who has died.
Many people worry that they will forget the person who has died; how they looked, their voice, the good times they had together. There are so many ways you can keep their memory alive. These are just a few suggestions:
talk about them and your special memories
write down your memories
keep an album of photos
keep a collection of some of their special possessions
do something that commemorates them, such as planting a tree, paying for a park bench or making a donation to a charity.