Coping with bereavement

It is never easy to lose someone we have counted on for support and indeed the confidence to face the world. When that does happen, we find ourselves struggling to cope with many unexpected and surprising emotions.

"The purpose of a grief process is to enable us to come to terms with our lost hope and open our eyes to new ones." - Dr Bill Webster - Centre for the Grief Journey

Dr Bill Webster is a well-known author, speaker and host of the TV series, "Living with Loss" . In 1983, his young wife died suddenly and unexpectedly and Bill struggled to come to terms with his feelings of grief, as well as coping with looking after two young sons, then only 9 and 7. At first, he seemed to be doing well and many commented that he appeared "so strong" . But that apparent strength was in fact numbness and three months after his wife's death, when the shock wore off, Bill felt like he was falling apart.

"That was probably the worst time of my whole life," writes Dr Webster. "Three months after Carolyn died, I felt a thousand times worse than I had at the actual moment. And the worst thing was that people's expectation seemed to be, by now, after three whole months, I should be 'getting over it'. What was wrong with me? Was I losing my mind? Was I going crazy? Why couldn't I 'pull myself together?' Nobody told me that this was grief.

Nobody put me in the picture as to what to expect, so the entire process caught me completely by surprise. What I would have given for someone to say that while it was possibly the most difficult time of my life, grief is a natural human experience and reassures me that I was normal."

We are pleased to offer you this ongoing grief support through Dr Bill Webster and the Centre for the Grief Journey. Dr Bill can be reached at Be sure to let us know how we can continue to support and assist you through this time.

What is grief?

Grief is normal response to any significant loss. It is not a disease or a sickness. Nor should it be seen as a sign of weakness, as sadly it so often is, or an indication of the fact that you are "not coping". It is the natural, human response to any significant loss.

People may encourage you to "be strong" or "not to cry". But how sad it would be if someone we cared about died and we didn't cry or we carried on as if nothing had happened. I'd like to think that someone will miss me enough to shed a tear after I'm gone. Wouldn't you?

When you lose someone special from your life, you are going to grieve. Our grief is saying that we miss the person and that we're struggling to adjust to a life without that special relationship. Grief does not say we are weak, it says that we cared.

Admittedly, saying that grief is normal does not minimise its difficulty. It may be one of the most challenging experiences of your life. But you are not crazy, or weak, or "not handling things". You are experiencing grief and after a significant loss that is a normal response.

How to help yourself: A few suggestions:

  • Be patient with yourself: Coming to terms with your loss and adjusting to a new life does not happen overnight. The grief process usually takes more time than most people expect. The poet John Donne wrote: "He who has no time to mourn has no time to mend". Do not rush yourself, for your body, mind and heart require all your energy just to mend.
  • Accept you feelings - It is normal to feel sad, angry, hurt and confused when you are suffering a bereavement.  Allow yourself time to feel these emotions, knowing that in time, though they may not disappear these feeling will become easier to cope with.
  • Be good to yourself: Try to look after yourself physically, mentally, socially and spiritually, especially at significant times along the journey. Even if you cannot sleep, at least try to rest. Good nutrition is important, so resist the temptation to skip meals or eat junk food. After being out of your social circle for a time, you may find it surprisingly difficult to go back to work, to face friends, or to attend your place of worship. Such adjustments are not easy, either for you or for them. It is important not to shut yourself away. Social relationships are healthy, and especially so after a loss.
  • Hold on to hope: While we must not minimise the pain and difficulty of grief, we need to trust that someday this pain will subside and life will have meaning again. There is a purpose, even though we may not see it right now. You will begin to pick up the threads of your life. You will look toward the future with hope and even pleasure.

That may be hard to believe right now, but let us walk alongside you until you can.

Help with the emotions of bereavement

If you have recently lost a loved one, we are truly sorry.

The death of a loved one triggers feelings of grief in us all.  How that grief manifests itself and how it makes each of us feel, can vary greatly. Grief can have a physical, as well as emotional impact. It can reduce appetite or make it difficult to get to sleep. You may feel teary and this may come in waves, sometimes long after the bereavement and without any immediate trigger. You may feel bouts of anger, listlessness or a deep sadness. All of these feelings are completely natural.

Talking to friends and family about your feelings, and about the person who has died, can help. Reminiscing and reflecting can be a great comfort and a great source of laughter. Talking to others can help you through the period where you feel the loss most acutely and painfully.

Professional help

See your GP if you continue to struggle to sleep, or if you continue to find it difficult to cope.

For help with learning to live with the loss of a loved one you could approach a professional counsellor.

There are support groups across the UK, often run by people who have suffered similar bereavements. Talking to people who have experienced a situation similar to your own can be a source of comfort, solace and understanding. Your Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to direct you towards local services. Additionally, any of the following services may be able to help you:

  • Cruse Bereavement Care - Offering help and support to those suffering bereavement.
  • The Samaritans - Emotional support for those with feelings of stress or despair, or for anyone feeling suicidal.
  • Child Bereavement Charity - Supports families facing the loss of a child.
  • RD4U - Cruse Bereavement Care's youth project to help young people cope with the death of someone close.

Helping children deal with bereavement

It is important to give a child as much time and space to grieve as any adult. You can help children deal with the after effects by including them in conversations. Talk to them about their loss using words they understand. Keep to regular routines. Answer their questions honestly, remembering that if the local community is aware of the circumstances of the death, there is a very real chance other children will ask the child about it.

Tell the teacher

It is inevitable that a death will affect any child but quite how that manifests itself will vary from person to person. It is important to tell the school teacher and any support staff about what has happened so they can look for any changes you need to know about.

Work with the teaching staff. Tell them how the child has been so far, and whether you have noticed any changes in their personality or attitude. Tell them if there is something specific you are concerned about or would like them to look out for.

Professional help

If you do feel the child needs help in coming to terms with their loss then counselling services should be available to you. Contact your GP about this.

There are other youth groups and services available. Contact your Citizens Advice Bureau for local details.You might also find the following links useful:

  • RD4U - Cruse Bereavement Care's youth project to help young people cope with the death of someone close.
  • Winston's Wish - The charity for bereaved children

The loss of a baby or child

If you have recently lost a son or daughter, we are truly sorry.

Every bereavement is a tragedy to those who remain. The loss of a baby or child can be an even more devastating experience.

Coming to terms with what has happened can be painfully difficult. Parents, families and friends can feel lost and directionless. You may feel overwhelmed by grief. You may feel responsible or guilty.You are not alone. Organisations exist that are run or staffed by people who have been in a similar situation to yours. Very few people will know exactly how you are feeling, but they will - and they will be able to help you.

You can contact them here:

Carrying on after bereavement

It takes time to come to terms with bereavement. In addition to the emotional and physical effects there is a practical impact too. Routines may have to change, especially if the person who has died was your husband, wife or partner.

You will find yourself having to adapt, to carry out the jobs and tasks around the home that they used to do. You will find that you miss the person who has died in a host of ways and often in lots of small ways you would never previously have imagined. For some time you may find yourself talking to the person who has died as if they were still there.

Coping with bereavement isn't about 'getting over' the loss of a loved one. There frequently is no way to 'get over it' and you may not want to if there was. It is about carrying on. It’s about learning to live with the loss of a person who would want you to continue to live a full and meaningful life.

You should not feel pressured into moving any faster than you wish or doing something you do not want to do but when you are ready, there is help available for you to build your life again.

Try exploring volunteering options.

Contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau, library or community centre for details of local groups, organisations or social activities you might like to be a part of or take part in.

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