How people may react to a bereavement

People react to bereavement in many different ways and there are no hard and fast rules but people often find that they experience at least some of the following feelings:

  • disbelief or denial-carrying on as if nothing has happened
  • shock or numbness
  • imagining they still see or hear the person they have lost
  • guilt-feeling they could have done more or prevented the death from happening
  • anger at the world, a specific person, God or even the person who has died
  • anxiety about coping without the person they have lost
  • difficulty in sleeping, mood swings, reactive depression, loss of appetite, lack of concentration, exhaustion

It is worth remembering that any of these feelings can emerge at any time for a long time after the actual bereavement, maybe many years later.

Some ways of helping

First acknowledge the person's loss.  Never ignore the death of someone in the life of a relative, friend or neighbour or someone you work with. 

Everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace. Take your lead from the bereaved person and allow them time and space. 

If you find speaking to them difficult a letter letting them know how sad you feel or perhaps sharing a memory of the person who has died can be very comforting. 

Listening to a bereaved person can be just as important as talking to them.  Try not to be embarrassed at the sight of tears as crying is part of the healing process although some people prefer not to show their emotions in public and save their tears for when they are alone. 

Offers of practical help are usually gratefully received but it is better to ask first and not be offended if an initial offer is refused.  Help is often more useful some time after the death when friends and family of the bereaved person have gone back home or to work.

These things are usually better avoided

  • Changing the subject when bereaved people talk about their loss
  • Saying 'I know how you feel' or talking about your own bereavements.
  • Trying to soothe the pain by saying 'It was a merciful release', 'Time heals', or 'Try to think about something else'.  However well-meant such remarks seldom help.
  • Giving advice unless it is asked for
  • Making promises of help you cannot keep
  • Assuming that the bereaved person should have got over their loss by a certain time.  Grieving nearly always takes longer that people expect.