Coping with Bereavement

Coping with bereavement is something that affects us all at some time.  Understanding the range of emotions we can go through can help in the  healing process.

Bereavement is one of life's greatest challenges and one that none of us is immune to. Unfortunately sooner or later we will lose someone we love. The closer that loss is the harder we feel it.

Grief is the name given to the natural re-action after death. Each one of us will experience grief in a different way but the range of emotions that we go through are usually the same.

Understanding those emotions may help a little in how we recover and eventually pick up our lives again.

Grief will have an affect on us both emotionally and physically. It can affect our own health and wellbeing because our whole world goes out of kilter. It can make us feel isolated and alone even when we are surrounded by family and friends.

There is what psychologists and counsellors refer to as a "cycle of grief" that most people will experience.

What you have to understand is grief is a very personal thing. Each one of us will experience it differently.

We may not experience all of the stages of the cycle of grief but usually there is a common pattern. Knowing and understanding the stages may help us in coping with bereavement.


The first reaction on hearing of the death of someone is usually shock and disbelief. Even if that person has been ill for some time and the outcome was expected it is still a shock when death finally happens.

My first experience of coping with bereavement came in my early 30's when one of my friends was tragically killed in a car accident. There was no preparation one day she was there and the next gone!

The first couple of days I was walking around in a daze, feeling completely disorientated and detached from everything around me. I could see people going about their daily lives as though nothing had happened and it didn't make any sense.


When the initial shock begins to wear off some people go into denial, refusing to accept that the person is dead. People can actually think they've seen the person or felt their presence. They can continue to talk to the person they've lost as though they were still in the room.

Anger and Guilt

When coping with bereavement it is common to feel anger and guilt. Anger at why has this happened "Why me". This is particularly the case if the bereavement was sudden as in an accident. It is common to look for something or someone to blame for the loss.

Guilt can be experienced by blaming ourselves for not having done enough for the person whose died, or guilt even that it was them rather than us.

Coping with Bereavement - Despair and Depression

In the first few weeks of coping with bereavement a person will quite commonly feel complete and utter despair at their loss. They may worry how they are going to cope without the person they've lost both in a physical and emotional sense. They may worry about finances or all manner of things.

I recall a friend of mine whose Grandfather died quite suddenly after a short illness, saying that her Grandmother was worried and upset because she knew her husband had been going to arrange for the car to be serviced. All she seemed to focus on was that the car needed servicing and she didn't know what to do. 

Trivial matters are suddenly major issues that have to be dealt with and it all seems overwhelming for the person who has suffered the loss. As time goes on they can withdraw from life by not attending social functions, finding excuses for not wanting to go out and quite quickly depression sets in.

After the death of my Father my Mother went through a long period of depression. She saw no reason to do anything, she didn't seem to get any joy from anything and she simply kept saying she wanted to die. It was very hard for us to know how to help her get through it.

Coping with bereavement can have many physical manifestations such as loss of appetite, resulting in weight loss, lack of energy and motivation to do anything. The bereaved person may have difficulty sleeping, or concentrating on things going on around them. It can make them susceptible to illnesses such as colds, flu, shingles or it can aggrevate any existing health issues.


Eventually people pass through the depression and begin to accept the loss. It may take several months and even years but eventually people do begin to pick up the threads of life again. How quickly they recover is really up to the support network they have around them.

The Need to Talk

If you're coping with bereavement it's important to find people who you can talk to about the things that worry you, or to even just talk about the person you've lost.

Quite often when we know someone has been bereaved we avoid mentioning it because we fear the person will get upset. However it is far better to risk upsetting someone rather than ignoring the subject.

The bereaved person will need to talk all you have to do is lend a sympathetic ear. Talking about the person who has died is all part of the healing process.

Coping with bereavement is so much easier when it is in the natural order of things. For example when it is someone that is elderly that has lived their life to the full. It's so much harder to bear when a child dies, or when someone dies suddenly as a result of an accident or suicide.

If you or someone you know are finding it difficult coping with bereavement the following organizations are there to help.

Surviviors of Bereavement by Suicide(SOBS)An organization that helps those who have been bereaved by the suicide of a close relative or friend. They are a self-help organization. Many of their volunteers have themselves been bereaved by suicide. They have a National Helpline - 0844 561 68550844 561 6855 which is open 9.00 a.m. - 9.00 p.m. every day.

Brake the Road Safety Charity has a division BrakeCare, which provides help and advice for those who have been bereaved or injured in a road accident. It also operates a helpline on 0845 603 85700845 603 8570.

Sudden Death Support Association - set up and run by volunteering individuals who have experienced a sudden death themselves. This association provides a listening ear for relatives and friends struggling to cope in the aftermath of tragic loss. They can be contacted on 01189 88809901189 888099 (24 hour answerphone).

The Child Death Helpline is a helpline for anyone affected by the death of a child of any age, from prebirth to adult, under any circumstances, however recently or long ago.

SANDS Stillbirth and Neonatal death charity

are there to support anyone who has been affected by the death of a baby before, during or shortly after birth.

Coping with Terminal Illness

Coping with the news that someone close to you has a terminal illness and is dying is very distressing but it does give you time to prepare for the inevitable. The grieving process will probably start before the person dies. You begin to grieve for the things that are lost as the illness progresses.

My mother had Alzheimers and by the time she died, although I was upset at the final and ultimate loss, I felt I had done my grieving in stages as each bit of her personality had been lost to the illness. At the end it was almost a feeling of relief that her suffering was over. I'm sure that many relatives must feel that when they have had to watch a loved one deteriorate and eventually die.

My daughter lost one of her best friends last year. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was given only a few months to live on her 40th birthday. She had a husband and three adorable children. For a few months while they could they enjoyed some very special times together and made the most of the time she had left.

She and her husband prepared together for the inevitable parting. Discussion took place as to what was to happen at the time of her death, how her funeral was to be conducted and various other practical issues.

She wrote letters for each of her children for the special events in their life, in the future, that she wouldn't be there for. Special birthdays, setting off for University, their coming of age and their wedding day, particularly her daughter's wedding day.

Preparing for death is distressing but it gives everyone involved an opportunity to make the final time together precious and meaningful. It's an opportunity for putting differences aside to make your peace with someone. It's a time to share memories of the time you've spent together and how the memories will live on.

We've all heard of people that have been very brave and have put together scrap books or memory boxes, even made videos for the loved ones they are leaving behind. It is something positive to do that may help us in coping with bereavement.

For further information and support on Coping with Bereavement the following organizations are there for you.

Cruse Bereavement offers free support and advice for those going through bereavement.

Depression Alliance offers support and advice for those affected by depression.

The Bereavement Advice Org gives practical advice on what needs to be done following a bereavement.

Age UK which offers plenty of practical advice and information following bereavement.

The Directgov site which gives financial information following bereavement on wills, money, tax and benefits.

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