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Bereavement

Losing someone close to you can be one of the toughest things you have to go through in your life. Everyone copes with bereavement in different ways and there is never a right or a wrong way to go about it. The information in this article may help you to understand the range of emotions you may feel if you, or a close friend or relative, are recently bereaved.

Reactions to grief

The way you cope with loss may be influenced by many different things, including your age, cultural background or religious beliefs. However, there really is no set way to grieve and even if you have been bereaved before, you may not grieve in the same way again. When a family member dies, different people in the same family probably won’t grieve in the same way either, and this is to be expected.

The following points describe the most common stages of grief. You may not go through them all, although you may find you go through a rollercoaster of different emotions.

  • Shock. If you seem to be going about tasks in an automated way immediately after being bereaved, you may be in psychological shock. To begin with, you may feel numb and may not even cry. People close to you may not understand why you’re not breaking down, as you may seem detached from the situation.
  • Guilt. When you lose someone close to you, especially unexpectedly, you may regret some of the things you have done or said to them, or indeed what you didn’t say or do.
  • Relief. You may feel a sense of relief after the death of someone close to you, for example, if the person was ill for a long time or you were a carer for them. This is natural, understandable and quite common for people in this kind of situation.
  • Anger. If, in your eyes, you have been wrongly bereaved, you may question the circumstances of the death to the point that you become bitter and resentful. This may turn into spates of anger aimed at people around you – friends, family or the health service.
  • Acceptance and hope. When you begin to feel you can start enjoying things in life again, you will learn to accept the death and try to move on. Although you may not feel happier, you find you’re able to cope better and will be able look to the future.

Coping with grief

Look after yourself

As hard as it may be, try not to fight your feelings. Instead, allow yourself time to gather your thoughts and talk things through with someone you trust. You may want to look over old photos to remember the good times, or visit places you enjoyed going to together to remind yourself of the person you miss.

Coping with loss is tiring, stressful and emotionally draining. Although looking after yourself may not be easy at first, or your top priority, it’s important to keep your strength up by eating well, exercising and resting when you need to, even if you’re finding it difficult to sleep.

Talking therapies

For whatever reason, you may not want to share your feelings with family or friends. If you prefer, try talking to a bereavement counsellor; these professionals are specially trained to listen and will be empathetic to your needs. Talking to someone in this way may help you to develop a greater understanding of your feelings, thoughts and behaviour. However, if you need more specific help, your GP may be able to refer you to a psychologist (a health professional who specialises in emotional and behavioural problems) or a psychiatrist (a doctor who specialises in mental health).

When to get help

While bereavement will be one of the hardest things you ever have to face during your life, it’s a part of being human that everyone has to cope with. For some people, however, bereavement is something that affects them for a very long time and they may never come to terms with (doctors call this unresolved grief). This may happen if you don’t have the opportunity to grieve properly, or if there were particularly difficult circumstances surrounding the death.

It’s a good idea to see your GP for advice if you regularly:

  • feel that you’re unable to cope
  • have trouble sleeping, or have upsetting dreams or nightmares
  • try to deal with your grief by drinking heavily or taking illegal drugs
  • have problems with your appetite
  • have hallucinations (you see or hear things that aren’t really there)

Most people recover from a major bereavement within a year or two. However, there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ amount of time that you should take to grieve. Everyone is different, and you shouldn’t feel pressured or rushed into a way of coping that doesn’t suit you.

Depression

You will probably expect to feel sad when you lose someone close to you, but being sad is not the same as being depressed. Depression can interfere with your everyday life and become quite debilitating if you don’t seek help. If you feel you can’t muster the energy to eat, look after your personal hygiene, go back to work or engage in social activities, speak to your GP for advice.

Although it can be very difficult to accept that your loved one has gone forever, it’s important to try to carry on and live your own life. If necessary, you could see a health professional or support service to help you through your bereavement (see Further information).

Medicines

If you continue to grieve for a long time and have problems sleeping, your GP may prescribe you tranquillisers or sleeping tablets. These are for short-term use only (no longer than one to three weeks) as they can be addictive. However, if you don’t feel your grief lifting, you may be given antidepressants or referred to see a psychiatrist.

One of the most important things to remember is that bereavement is a process. It has a beginning, middle and an end, and you will, eventually, be able to get through it. Taking time to recover from a loss and getting support is always important to help you get through the difficult times.

The end of bereavement doesn’t mean you won’t miss the loved one you have lost. This missing feeling or ‘hole’ may appear large at first, but as normal life carries on, you will find it gets smaller and smaller, even if it’s always there.

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Produced by Louise Abbott, Bupa Health Information Team, September 2012.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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