Bereavement is something which most of us will experience at some time in our lives. Whilst no two people react in the same way, you may find it helpful to have some information about some of the more common emotions which can be experienced after a death.
It’s important to recognize that sometimes a bereaved person may not be able to grieve at the time of their loss. It is not unusual for unresolved feelings to emerge later, often provoked by another loss or life event.
There are four recognizable stages:
1. Immediate reaction – shock and disbelief
This may last for a few days or sometimes several weeks. You may find you have been very calm and detached during this time, able to deal with organizing the funeral or dealing with admin. Alternatively, many people feel unable to cope with simple tasks and feel completely at sea. Both these reactions are normal.
2. Being unable to accept the loss
This often involves what has been described as ‘searching behaviour’. This means that on some level you are trying to deny that the death has occurred. You may think you have heard or seen the dead person or, if you used to call them regularly, you may perhaps find yourself picking up the phone to tell them something. Sometimes you may feel you have seen the person in the street or even find yourself looking for him or her. Again, this behavior is not unusual following a bereavement.
3. Despair and desperation
During this time – often the longest stage of bereavement – you may find that you have lost all interest in living and feel there is no point in going on. The intensity of these emotions can be overwhelming and you may be unable to see any possibility of things changing in the future. This can be a very painful experience and many grieving people speak of a deep sense of hopelessness.
Gradually, over a period of time, the pain may ease a little and you may find yourself being able to remember without necessarily feeling overcome by sadness. This can be a time for you to begin life again and it’s important to renew old interests and take up new pursuits. If they are able to start enjoying aspects of life again, some people feel disloyal to the person who has died. It can seem like a betrayal of their memory, that their love for the person has faded and that they are being forgotten. However, what happened in the past is always an important part of you and enjoying your present and future life cannot affect what has gone before.
How you can help yourself
Grief is often far from straightforward and so as well as feeling unhappy you must also be prepared to feel any of the following: guilt, panic, fear, self-pity and anger, even towards the person you have lost
Many people also experience a loss of confidence and their usual coping skills and feel they need to hide this. However, this too is part of grief and it’s important that you share your feelings with a supportive listener. You may feel convinced that your friends are avoiding you. Unfortunately this often happens and is probably due to embarrassment – ‘not knowing what to say’. It may be up to you to take the first step to let them know you need their support.
Wanting to run away
Bereavement is a time of very painful and confusing emotions but it’s necessary to experience these in order to begin to build your life again. It is often very tempting to make major changes to your life, for example, moving house or disposing of possessions. However, it may be more helpful to take time to weigh up these decisions, to avoid future regrets about having acted too hastily.
As well as feeling emotionally pain, it is not uncommon to feel physically run down or find it difficult to eat, sleep or concentrate. Eventually these symptoms will ease. Only if they persist for a long time should you be concerned and seek the support of your doctor.
Grief is a very individual process and you will have your own unique experience, so don’t feel abnormal if your feelings do not follow the pattern outlined above. Equally, it is a very isolating process – it feels as if no one else could possibly understand. However, it may help you to remember that millions of others have gone through this very difficult experience – and have survived.