Time of loss and sadness
Here grief is explored, as well as how you might be feeling and the importance of looking after yourself. How to support others in the family and deal with a sudden death is also covered:
Feelings you may experience
- Grief is a normal reaction to losing a loved one, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. You also shouldn’t assume you will experience grief, especially when the person you cared for has suffered or had a very drawn out death. In this situation we can often feel a sense of relief. To hear about people’s different grief responses watch this video.
- Remember, you cannot ‘fix’ grief or remove it in some way. Grief is often described as a process or in terms of stages.
- There are five stages of grief. You may experience all of these stages or only some. You may experience them in a different order.
- Crying is a normal reaction to losing someone you cared about. It is a natural way of releasing your emotions. You may not feel like crying but feel numb instead, particularly in the first few days/weeks when you find yourself busy with funeral arrangements. Then when the funeral is over you may find you are struggling with your grief.
Time to look after yourself
- It is very important that you take care of yourself while grieving. A crucial way of doing this is to allow yourself to talk about the person you cared for and how you are feeling. Think about whom you feel most comfortable talking to, for example a close friend, another family member, a faith leader, a health or social care professional or a support organisation.
- There is a useful list of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ in terms of looking after your own emotional wellbeing. The British Psychological Society’s Covid-19 bereavement task force has produced a document on helping one another to cope with death and grief, at a time when many people are experiencing the loss of a friend or family member due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Don’t ignore your physical wellbeing. You may not feel like eating in the early stages of grieving, or you may not feel like cooking and just want to eat ‘comfort’ foods. This is quite normal. Try and remember that you need to try and eat as healthily as you can and that there’s lots of information around to help you with this.
- You may have problems sleeping, in which case talk to your GP. You can also try exercising in the day and avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
- There is a temptation to avoid a member of the family or a friend who is grieving, especially if you are struggling with your own grief or you are worried you might say the wrong thing. However, we need to remember the support of those close to us is vital when coping with bereavement.
- The most important thing is to give family and friends space to talk about the person if they want or just listen. Sometimes just being in the same room and being together quietly is enough.
- It can be helpful to share anecdotes or memories about the person you all cared about as this allows you and your family/friends to open up.
- Here is a list of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’ about how to support someone who is bereaved, as well as a leaflet on supporting grieving people.
Children and bereavement
You may find it very difficult to know what to say to children and young people in your family about the death of a person close to them. A child’s reaction to death will vary depending on how close they were to the person, the age of the child and whether the death was sudden or expected. What is common to all children and young people, however, is the need to feel included in what’s happening and having the opportunity to talk and try to make sense of what has happened.
Things to think about
- Be open and honest with children in your family, using age appropriate language and avoiding soft phrases such as ‘gone to sleep’. Children may otherwise think the person is coming back.
- Answer all their questions about the death even though this may feel difficult.
- Listen to the child’s own perception of the death, and reassure them if they appear to blame themselves in any way.
- Show your own emotions. This is how children learn to grieve – by observing adults’ reactions to death.
- Allow children to absorb information in bite size pieces and expect them to keep asking the same questions. Going over information can be very reassuring to them.
- If you are worried about your child, seek professional advice and support, for example from a GP or a local bereavement organisation such as Jigsaw or Winston’s Wish
- Look after yourself. Only by looking after yourself can you be of support to a child.
For further guidance and advice on how to talk to a child about a death and things that you can do to make a difference go to the YoungMinds website.
People with learning disabilities and bereavement
- You may have to explain to a person with a learning disability that a family member has died and are concerned about their level of understanding and how to do this.
- Using storyboards and memory books may be a helpful way of communicating with a person with a learning disability about a death and enabling them to share their feelings. ‘Access to Learning Disability Healthcare’ has developed a Make a Difference Toolkit which includes information and resources on how to support people with a learning disability with end of life care and bereavement. This toolkit also features an app called picTTalk, a communication tool which has been developed in six non-verbal languages, to help give people a voice about what’s happening in their lives. There are also some very helpful books ‘Books Beyond Words’ which can be purchased individually on death and loss of a family member.
- Here is information and advice as well as easy to read resources on how to help people with a learning disability deal with grief.
Getting bereavement support
- If you prefer to get support from outside the family or your family network there are a range of different organisations and charities offering bereavement information both online and in print. These include Cruse Bereavement Care, Marie Curie, and Macmillan Cancer Support. Alternatively visit the Age UK Surrey website.
- If you like to interact with others online there are several online communities that you can go to which are completely confidential and safe. You may have to set up a username and password. Many charities have these, including Marie Curie.
- You may like to talk to someone but don’t want to leave your home, so there are also several telephone support lines and web chats that you can use. These include Marie Curie, Samaritans and Cruse Bereavement Care. For contact details go to our Directory and Further Information.
- If you are more comfortable talking to a professional counsellor or psychotherapist face to face then you can try one of the following:
- Asking your GP to be referred to a local counselling service.
- If in work, approaching your employer to see if you are entitled to a set number of free counselling sessions.
- Finding a registered counsellor or psychotherapist in your area.
- Contacting a charity such as Cruse Bereavement Care or your local hospice (who may also be able to provide details of local bereavement support groups). For contact details go to Directory and Further Information.
Dealing with sudden death
- Coping with bereavement is difficult when death is expected, but if the death is sudden it is even harder to deal with. A sudden death might be the result of:
- A murder.
- Road or other accident.
- Heart attack (which is also the second highest cause of death after cancer).
- Drug or alcohol overdose.
- It may be that the person you were caring for was terminally ill and receiving long term care, but their death occurs in a way which seems sudden and unexpected to you. Perhaps the person you cared for died after a few weeks, when they were expected to live for several months.
- Whatever the nature of the death, if you have experienced a person close to you dying suddenly you are likely to be experiencing a tsunami of emotions and a raft of extra dimensions of grief including the following:
- Shock, leading to numbness, disbelief, and despair.
- Guilt at being the one alive, or blaming yourself in some way.
- Anxiety, panic attacks and emotional exhaustion.
- Extended crying and sobbing.
- Inability to sleep or nightmares.
- Desperation to see the person you cared for again.
- Irrational thoughts.
- Inability to eat or concentrate, loss of interest in life.
- Be aware that you may experience different emotions at different times, and may change suddenly and unexpectedly. This can be exhausting and very challenging, especially if you are at work, with a group of people or in a public place. Let people around you know that your emotions may be unpredictable and to ask them to be understanding and supportive.
- Here is more information on how to cope with sudden death, including a leaflet on coping with grief when someone you love dies suddenly.
Bereaved by drug or alcohol overdose
- Accidentally or intentionally, but it can also come about as a result of long term drug and alcohol use.
- There are particular issues that may arise for you which make coping with grief all the more challenging:
- If the addiction was known to you before the death, this may have led to a strained or difficult relationship between you.
- You may have known nothing about the addiction, leading to feelings of self- blame or guilt.
- There are legal processes that need to be gone through when dealing with a death by drugs or alcohol, including referral to the coroner, post-mortem and inquest, which can be lengthy, distressing and creates funeral delays.
- You may feel you cannot grieve openly and publicly due to the stigma that society attaches to such deaths. Often family carers talk about how they are made to feel ashamed about their relative’s death.
- For further information and support on what you might be experiencing, how to cope, as well the likely legal processes visit The BEAD Project website.
Bereaved by suicide
Death by suicide is particularly distressing for relatives for the following reasons:
- It is hard to take on board the level of despair and hopelessness that led to the person you cared for killing themselves.
- Maybe you feel you ought to have ‘spotted the signs’ and feel guilty you didn’t do more to prevent the suicide. You may be constantly asking yourself ‘what if…’
- There is a stigma attached to suicide. Other relatives and friends may view the suicide as a ‘selfish’ act, or feel it conflicts with their religion or values.
- There will be police involvement leading to a coroner’s inquest, which is lengthy, distressing and can cause funeral delay.
- There may be media interest, which can be very intrusive. It can make it difficult to find the space to deal with the emotional impact such a death is having on you.
- For further information and advice on how to cope then visit the Support after Suicide website.
- The Help is at Hand guide is produced by Public Health England and the National Suicide Prevention Alliance, and includes helpful advice on how to deal with the media when dealing with a suicide or traumatic death.
- Finding Your Way is a directory of suicide bereavement services for Surrey and North East Hampshire.