Bereavement and grief
Bereavement is something which happens to almost everyone at some stage in their lives. The death of someone close to you, whether it was expected or sudden, can be an extremely difficult time, and you will experience many different emotions.
Everyone experiences grief in different ways and there is no right or wrong way to cope with it. Your emotions after losing someone will depend on many things, including your relationship to them, how you felt about them, and the circumstances of their death, as well as your own personal experiences.
Although everyone is different, there are stages of grief which almost everyone goes through. These stages aren’t always distinct, and there is usually some overlap between them.
Stages of Grief
There is no set timescale for reaching these stages, but it can help to know what the stages are and that intense emotions and swift changes in mood are perfectly normal.
1. Numbness: Feeling emotionally numb is often the first reaction to a loss. This may last for a few hours, days or longer. In some ways, this numbness can help you to get through the practical arrangements and pressures that may surround the funeral, but if this phase goes on for too long it can become a problem.
2. Yearning: Numbness may be replaced by a deep yearning for the person who has died. For example, every time the phone rings you might expect it to be the person who has died, or you may think you see him or her on the bus or in crowds.
3. Anger/Guilt: You may feel agitated or angry, and find it difficult to concentrate, relax or sleep. You may also feel guilty, dwelling on arguments you had with that person or on emotions and words you wish that you had expressed.
4. Sadness: This period of strong emotion usually gives way to bouts of intense sadness, silence and withdrawal from family and friends. During this time, you may be prone to sudden outbursts of tears, set off by reminders and memories of the deceased.
5. Adjustment: Over time, the pain, sadness and depression start to lessen. You begin to see your life in a more positive light again. Although it’s important to acknowledge there may always be a feeling of loss, you begin to learn to live with it.
6. Acceptance: The final phase of grieving is to let go of the person who has died and to carry on with your life, although things may never be exactly the same as they were before. Your sleeping patterns and energy levels should return to normal.
The grieving process can take some time. How long it takes depends on you and your personal situation. In general, though, it usually takes one to two years to recover from a major bereavement.
Physical effects of grief
Like other forms of stress, bereavement can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. Stress and anxiety can produce physical symptoms. You might experience:
- loss of appetite or comfort eating
- feeling sick or an upset stomach
- panic attacks
- aches and pains, such as chest pain and headaches
- disturbed sleep or nightmares
- restlessness or hyperactivity.
Read more on bereavement from Mind.
Cruse Bereavement Care easy read Effects of grief.
Sometimes the grieving process is especially difficult. Some people find it impossible to acknowledge the bereavement at all, which can mean that their feelings aren’t worked through properly. This may also happen if you don’t have time to grieve properly, perhaps because of work pressures or if you are looking after your family.
Such difficult grieving can lead to recurring bouts of depression, loss of appetite and even suicidal feelings. You are more likely to have a difficult grieving process if:
- you are on your own and have no support from your community, family, or friends
- you have unresolved issues with the person who died
- the death was caused by a particularly difficult event, such as a national disaster or an unsolved murder
- the person goes missing or it isn’t clear exactly what happened
- you are unable to attend the funeral or there isn’t one
Depression is a natural response to a bereavement, and usually lifts of its own accord. If it doesn’t, you could be clinically depressed. This can be treated, for example with medication, and you should speak to your GP as soon as possible.
Ways of Coping
There are many different ways to cope with a bereavement and everyone will find different methods helpful. The first thing you should do is to look after yourself, physically and mentally. Grief can be exhausting and stressful.
It is important to eat well, get plenty of rest and express your emotions in whatever way feels right for you. Talk to your family and friends and ask for help if you need it.
Patient Information Centre has a range of easy to read self help guides for bereavement, depression and sleep You can also find local mental health services on InformationNOW. Type in CNTW to get a full list.
Counselling and therapy
Counselling involves talking to someone who is trained in the art of listening, so that you can express how you feel and begin to find your own solutions to your problems. Talking and being heard by someone who shows empathy and acceptance can help you to explore the issues that are troubling you. The counsellor may be able to help you to develop a greater understanding of your feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
- Your GP practice may have a counselling service attached to it, or your GP may refer you to another counselling service within the NHS.
- Newcastle Talking Helps offers free talking therapies, which can help with problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, anger, fears, bereavement and relationship difficulties. You can request a referral from your doctor or contact them directly to make an appointment.
- Bereavement counselling is available from local charities. Read more on local Mental Health Support on InformationNOW
- Independent Age has bereavement counsellors and an online chat service.
- Counselling Directory where you can find registered counsellors for private treatment
There is growing evidence that arts therapies is a relevant treatment for grief and depression. Approaches may include art, dance, music and drama. Some people who have had a stroke used this therapy successfully locally, so it is worth contacting a local charity to see if it is available as part of their offer unless you go privately.
Support groups offer an opportunity to meet up with other people who are in a similar situation. They can help to deal with feelings of isolation and, at the same time, show you how other people have coped. Finding that you can support others may help you too. People who have experienced bereavement often lead these groups.
Your GP may be able to offer you tranquillisers, sleeping pills or antidepressants. They can be helpful for a short period of time, but they can also have side effects which you should discuss with your GP before taking them. Some medication can also cause withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them and so you need advice to stop taking them safely.
When someone dies you not only have to cope with your loss and the emotions that this brings, but there may also be practical issues that you need to deal with. This can include:
- registering the death
- arranging the funeral
- contacting friends and relatives
- dealing with the will
- sorting out benefits
You may find it difficult or distressing to deal with these practicalities and you shouldn’t try to cope alone. If you can, ask family or friends to help you.
Funeral Services Guide takes you through the process of planning a funeral and dealing with final affairs and coping with grief.
Local and telephone support available
Cruse Bereavement Care provides counselling and support, information, advice, education and training services.
Marie Curie Hospice has a new service to support people experiencing loss and grief during the Covid pandemic and beyond. There is also a specialist terminal illness service.
Newcastle Talking Helps are effective in helping people with problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, anger, fears, bereavement and relationship difficulties. They have specific help during the coronavirus
Age UK England has a helpful video which explains more about Talking Therapies and how they can help you
St Oswald’s Hospice support children from the ages of 4 to 18 years to come to terms with grief and loss.
The Muslim Initiative is a community association based in Newcastle upon Tyne who offer bereavement and burial advice.
Tyneside and Northumberland Mind has a telephone support line which offers listening, practical and emotional support to anyone over 16. It’s open 7 days a week 8am to 10pm.
Mental health listening services and support groups are available to support people in Newcastle. There are a number of telephone helplines and online resources
Bereavement Advice Centre is a free helpline and web-based information service. They give practical information and advice and signposting on the many issues and procedures that face us after the death of someone close
At a Loss is a hub of information and support for bereaved people.
You may find that mindfulness and meditation help.
- Bereavement benefits DWP has a one stop service to help you with financial support available.
- Bereavement – Support after a death Age UK’s information guide
Support for parents and siblings
The Compassionate Friends support bereaved parents and siblings with information and peer to peer companion groups after their child dies.
Support for people with learning disabilities or autism
It can be a particularly difficult time for people who find it difficult to describe or talk about their feelings of grief if they have a learning disability or autism. Contact Skills for People or Mencap grief helpline
Macmillan easy read bereavement booklet
Feeling down booklet by the Scottish commission for learning disability
Books and resources
Beyond Words is a charity that provides books and training to support people who find pictures easier to understand than words.
Support for carers
Newcastle Carers support carers when the person they care for dies. They can support you to adjust to your new way of life as you move away from your caring role
Carers Direct information on Bereavement support
Suicide, sudden or unexpected deaths
Survivors of bereavement by suicide offer information and support for adults over 18 including:
- support groups
- resources and booklets
- poetry and prose
Read more about suicide on InformationNOW
Help is at Hand: A resource for people bereaved by suicide and other sudden, traumatic death Department of Health’s guide
WAY Widowed and Young is a UK charity that offers a peer-to-peer support network for anyone who’s lost a partner before their 51st birthday – married or not, with or without children, whatever their sexual orientation. They operate a members only 24/7 confidential helpline and social events.
Last updated: June 24, 2022