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Coping with grief after bereavement

When someone close to you dies, it is normal to experience grief. Grief is a response to loss that affects everyone differently. The way that you experience grief may change over time, or may come and go unexpectedly.

Symptoms of grief

When someone close to you dies, you may go through a wide range of emotions, as well as physical symptoms. You may experience any or all of the following:

  • Disbelief, shock or numbness
  • Deep sadness and despair
  • Anger and bitterness
  • Regret, guilt or feeling responsible for their death
  • Tiredness and lethargy, feeling unable to get out of bed or do everyday tasks
  • Forgetfulness or confusion
  • Sleeplessness, or experiencing vivid dreams that disrupt your sleep
  • Sleeping very heavily
  • Unable to eat or forgetting to eat regularly
  • Overeating or comfort eating
  • Feeling isolated or alone
  • Feeling stressed or overwhelmed
  • Physical aches and pains, such as stomach aches or weary limbs

Grief is unique for each person. You may never experience some of these symptoms, or you might notice changes that aren’t on this list.

If you are worried about any symptoms you experience after the death of a loved one, speak to your GP. They may recommend grief counselling or bereavement support.

Practical ways to cope with grief

There’s no cure for grief or ‘shortcut’ to getting over bereavement. Grief is something that you have to move through and come to terms with. For some people, they might always have some grief for a loved one who is gone.

There are some practical steps you can take to help you cope with the intense emotions in the early days of grief:

  • Accept that you are grieving. After a loved one dies, there can be pressure to ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’. But grief is an important process that helps you adjust to life without your loved one. Accept that you need to grieve and that you won’t be back to normal.
  • Let yourself feel sad. Likewise, the pressure to stay strong can mean that you bury or bottle up your feelings. Try to be kind to yourself and let yourself be sad and cry if you need to.
  • And don’t worry if you don’t feel sad. Sometimes, the shock of bereavement means that you feeling nothing. This might be like an emotional numbness, or you might not feel different at all. Often this is the mind’s way of protecting itself from distress – so don’t feel guilty for not crying. It will take time for the reality to sink in.
  • Sleep regularly. Grief may disrupt your sleeping patterns. You might find it difficult to sleep, or be sleeping much more heavily than usual. You might wake up feeling exhausted. Try to keep to your normal sleep routine as much possible.
  • Eat healthily. Grief can make you comfort eat unhealthy food, or you might not have an appetite at all. Try to eat three healthy, nourishing meals a day. Having all the nutrition you need will help you physically cope with the emotional strain of grief.
  • Try to keep to a routine. Bereavement is one of the most disruptive things that can happen in your life. But keeping to a routine will help you find stability and remember to eat and sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. It may be tempting to ‘numb’ the pain of grief, but drinking heavily will make you feel even worse in the long-run.
  • Find bereavement support. There are many bereavement counselling services that can help you cope with the death of a loved one. Find out more.

If you are struggling to cope with grief, it’s important to seek help. Find out who to contact for bereavement support.