It is important to understand that grief is a natural reaction to losing someone that is close to you or that you love. There is no ‘normal’ way to grieve and everyone will experience this differently depending on a number of factors. You may experience a range of different symptoms and feelings to those around you, which is okay.
What are the symptoms?
You can experience a wide range of emotions after the death of someone close, however it is also common for people to feel no emotions at all. Other things you may feel are guilt, relief, tiredness, sleeplessness and many more. All of these are natural and how you are feeling is most likely natural too. There is no set amount of time that you will grieve and you should take as long as you need. You may find that feelings of a past bereavement resurface; it may help to talk this through with someone. Remember that people react differently to death and you may not even experience feelings of sadness when someone dies. Don’t assume that you or another person has to feel a certain way.
At times, your emotions may be intense or distressing and you may feel overwhelmed. Months or years after the loss, you may find yourself suddenly hit by a bout of grief or intense sadness. This can be unexpected and upsetting but is a natural reaction to the death of someone you cared about. Grief is not something that can be ‘cured’, it is something we learn to live and cope with over time.
It is important to let yourself cry if you need to or talk about what you are feeling if that is what you want to do. Listen to what your body is telling you it needs. If you are struggling with your grief, make an appointment with your GP or a bereavement service (websites are listed at the end of this post).
You can find support through a number of routes, such as your doctor and bereavement services. However, you may find that family and friends are able to provide both physical and emotional support. Sometimes people don’t know how to express their condolences as they don’t know what to say or don’t want to upset you. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for their support, they may not realise what you need at the time.
How to help a grieving child
You first reaction may be to try and protect a child from experiencing grief; however it is important that you let them express their feelings. You may need to remind them that this is not a temporary arrangement and that the person is not coming back. This may seem upsetting, but it is important that they understand the person is not simply on holiday or sleeping as this could cause problems for them in the future. It will help to reinforce that they are not responsible or to blame and encourage them to speak about their worries or ask any questions they may have. As with adults, you cannot force a child to talk about how they are feeling but it can be reassuring for them to know they are able to approach you if needed. You can ask your GP, social worker or health visitor for advice on how to support a bereaved child if you are unsure how to do so.
Selected Information from Child Bereavement UK
Children and young people grieve just as much as adults but they show it in different ways. They learn how to grieve by copying the responses of the adults around them, and rely on adults to provide them with what they need to support them in their grief.
Children have a limited ability to put feelings, thoughts and memories into words and tend to “act out” with behaviours rather than express themselves verbally. Showing your grief will encourage them to express theirs. Their behaviour is your guide as to how they are and this is as true for a very young child as it is for a teenager.
Behaviours at different ages
Children up to 5 years of age have trouble accepting the permanence of death and may expect the person to return, meeting sadness and disappointment. They may need reassurance the person is not in pain.
Primary school age children begin to understand the concept of death and can often feel that somehow it was their fault and act out accordingly.
Secondary school age children have a very similar understanding of death to adults but may be reluctant to express their feelings at an already difficult time in their life. They may act anti-socially or depressed because of this.
For the full guide and further information on how to help a grieving child visit www.childbereavementuk.org
Supporting a grieving friend or relative
It can be tempting to avoid a friend or family member when someone close to them has died. This can be because you’re worried about saying the wrong thing and making things worse, or unsure what to say at all. But the social support of friends or relatives is crucial to helping someone cope with a bereavement. The following information taken from the Marie Curie website might help you support a friend or relative who is grieving.
Ways of communicating
If at first you find it hard to talk to your friend or relative face-to-face, you could write them a letter, text message, email or use social media to let them know you’re thinking about them. Try to avoid clichés about time being a healer or saying you know how they feel. Everyone grieves differently and should be allowed to express this. This communication should be about their experiences and not your own. There may be opportunities later for you to share what you’ve found helpful if you have been through a similar experience. If you make promises, stick to them. The death might already have left your friend or relative feeling abandoned. If you knew the person who died, include an anecdote or story about them. This will encourage your friend or relative to open up and may tell them something about the person who has died which they didn’t know.
Talking about the person who died can really help someone start to cope with their grief. If your relative or friend starts to talk about the person, don’t try to change the subject, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Listen to what they have to say. Sometimes just having you in the same room and sitting together quietly can be reassuring.
Let them express their emotions
Try to create an environment where your friend or relative feels safe and can express what they’re feeling. These emotions can range from sadness, to more unexpected emotions like anger. Also, try not to offer advice or cheer them up – it’s important that they feel in control of what they choose to share with you. Remember to keep anything that is shared with you confidential unless you have permission to share it more widely. At times your friend or relative may want to talk about something unrelated to the person who has died.
Don’t avoid referring to the person who has died if it’s relevant to the conversation, but don’t steer the conversation in that direction either. It’s important that a bereaved person can ‘take a break’ from grieving if they need to without feeling that you’ll be critical of them.
Practical offers of help are often more useful than general ones. For example, you could offer to cook dinner, answer the phone or do their shopping. Be honest about the fact you want to help but are unsure how. Ask them what they need. Cleaning the bathroom and making sure there’s enough toilet paper can be very helpful if there is a gathering after the funeral at your relative or friend’s home. Someone who doesn’t drive will appreciate being given lifts for important appointments.
In the first few weeks and days, the person will probably have lots of practical things to distract them from the reality of the death. This is also when most family and friends make themselves available for support. However, there is no time limit on grieving and your friend or relative might need to cry or talk about their loss for many months or years afterwards. You might also want to make a note of any dates or anniversaries that are likely to be particularly difficult, and get in touch.
It can be very difficult for a grieving person to ask for help when they’re already feeling vulnerable. Let them know you’re there for them and be sensitive to any changes in their mood. The reality is that bereaved people experience lots of difficult emotions which can sometimes be hard to be around. Try not to take any anger personally, and give them space.
Suggest an activity
Weekends can be particularly difficult for bereaved people. Perhaps after some time has passed and you feel they’re up to it, you could offer to watch a film together or go for a walk. You could also do things which remind them of the person who died. This could be visiting a special place or looking through old pictures together. Remember, you don’t have to talk while you’re doing this. Just having you there will be reassuring.