The loss of a loved one can be one of the most traumatic events we experience in our life and it can impact us in many ways. Grief can affect our feelings, thoughts, behaviours, physical reactions and our relationships.
Grief reactions - what should I expect?
You may have several different reactions after someone close to you has died and these reactions can change over time. Everyone experiences grief differently; there is no ‘right’ or ‘normal’ way to grieve and there is no specific time frame. Grief is the process we go through when adapting to loss and our reactions can be influenced by many different things. These can include the relationship you had with the person, the circumstances around their death and the support you have around you.
Feelings Some common emotions you may feel can include:
Shock - you may have thought you were prepared, whatever the circumstances an initial sense of shock is common. Anger – this may come out suddenly at unexpected moments and could be directed at different subjects or things that happened or didn’t happen before the person died or towards the person who has died or yourself. Numbness - feeling numb can help us cope with very intense and distressing emotions. Relief - you may feel a sense of relief when a person dies, particularly if the person has been suffering from a long illness. You may feel guilty for feeling relief, but relief is a normal response, it does not mean you did not love of care for them.
Other common feelings that people experience are guilt, fear, confusion, yearning and hopelessness. Many people also feel that they have lost their purpose in life.
It is important to accept these feelings although this can sometimes feel uncomfortable.
Thoughts People can experience a range of different thoughts and again these can change over time. Some common thought reactions that you may experience can include:
The inability to concentrate.
A lack of interest and motivation to do things.
A difficulty in making decisions.
Trying to make sense of what has happened.
Questioning life, faith and fairness.
Some people also describe hearing, seeing or smelling a loved one.
Behaviours People can experience a range of different behaviours and again these can change over time. Some common behaviours that you may experience can include:
Withdrawing from family, friends and activities and isolating yourself, or increased activity as a way of avoiding difficult, intense, or overwhelming feelings.
Increased use of alcohol or drugs or risky behaviour.
An increase or decrease in appetite.
Physical aches and pains.
Panic attacks where you experience difficulty breathing, a tight chest and in increased heart rate.
Grieving can be exhausting so it is important to look after yourself and to practice self-care.
Coping and adapting
It is important that you take care of yourself following a bereavement and whilst grieving. Some ideas of how to cope can be found below:
Take one day at a time. How you feel one day is not necessarily how you will feel the next day.
It is helpful to talk about the person who has died and about your relationship with them, your memories and feelings. This could be with your family, friends, your GP or a support organisation.
Give yourself time, space and permission to grieve.
Try not to isolate yourself and try to let others know how you are feeling and what support you need from them.
Get out of the house, go for a walk if you can and get some fresh air. Connecting with nature can be really helpful.
Don’t keep your emotions bottled up, crying for example can be a helpful way to release our emotions.
Try to eat healthily and try to give yourself enough rest, even if you are unable to sleep.
You might find it difficult to concentrate whilst grieving and this could impact on your working life. Talking to your workplace about how you are feeling is really important. It could be that you negotiate a temporary arrangement with your workplace, for example, to work shorter hours to help you through this difficult time.
Turning to drugs or alcohol will only offer temporary relief so monitoring your consumption and finding healthy outlets for what you are feeling is really important.
Don’t feel guilty if you are struggling to cope or think you are week for needing help. We are all only human and we all need help at sometimes in our lives.
The aim is to not get back to ‘normal’, as life will never be the same again, but it is about learning to live with your grief and adapt to the changes that it has brought to your life. Although loss can be difficult it can also bring us opportunities.
Remembering a loved one
Grief reactions can be triggered by all kinds of events or memories. A particular song, visiting a special place or even renewing car insurance. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and special events such as Father’s and Mother’s Day can be a trigger for us. It can therefore be helpful to plan in advance, look at what can help and how you can prepare for these dates. Many people worry they will forget the person who has died however there are many ways you can keep the memory of your loved one alive. Do something that commemorates them, such as paying for a bench, planting a tree or donate to charity. Make a memory book, with photos, cards or letters, keep a collection of some of their special possessions, are a few suggestions. Every Friday evening at 8pm we invite you to light a candle in memory of your loved one as part of our Lights of Love initiative, where we ‘take a moment’ and remember our loved ones. We also invite you to join us each December for our annual Lights of Love remembrance service.
When will I feel better?
Most people’s feelings of loss will gradually become easier to cope with over time, but grief doesn’t just disappear, we learn to live with it. Some people still feel deep sadness years later. Everyone experiences grief differently and it is important not to create expectations around how you should be feel by a particular time.
When should I seek professional help?
Very intense emotions are a normal part of the grieving process. They can last a long time, but most people do learn to cope with them. Sometimes though, talking to a professional who is trained in supporting people with their grief can be helpful.
Signs that a bereaved person might need professional help can include:
Experiencing their grief as intensely as it happened yesterday even after some time.
Feelings of depression, anxiety or panic attacks.
Withdrawal from things they used to do, people, work etc.
Ruminating on what happened to their loved one.
Using unhealthy coping strategies, such as heavy drinking.
What support can Great Oaks Hospice offer to me?
Our Family Support Team offer a free confidential 12 session counselling service, available to anyone over 18 living in the Forest of Dean area, who has been bereaved through any cause of death. Counselling is currently being provided online and over the telephone.
Our Specialist Palliative Social Worker offers emotional support as well as any practical support you may need such as advocacy, accessing services such as housing and benefits advice, information and signposting to other community services that can provide support.
Should you wish to refer yourself for support please contact us on 01594 811 910 or [email protected]
Benefits advice A spouse or partner's death is difficult and can be even harder if you now have financial concerns and to live on less money. You may be entitled to bereavement support payments, there are some links below to check your entitlements. Gov.uk website - https://www.gov.uk/bereavement-support-payment
Cruse Bereavement Care https://www.cruse.org.uk/ a national bereavement charity who offers a national freephone helpline 0808 808 1677. They also have a local office Cruse Bereavement Care Gloucestershire. Telephone no: 01242 252518 or email: [email protected]
Grief Chathttps://www.griefchat.co.uk A national organisation who offers an on-line space for grieving or bereaved people to be able to share their story, explore their feelings and be supported by a qualified bereavement counsellor.
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicidehttps://uksobs.org A national charity who provides support to people bereaved by suicide. Helpline no: 0300115065
Winston’s Wish https://www.winstonswish.org/ is a national bereavement charity based in Gloucestershire who provides emotional and practical bereavement support to children, young people and those who care for them. Helpline no: 0808 802 0021