What does bereavement mean?
Bereavement is the process in which you feel deep sadness over the loss of a partner, family member, friend, neighbour or colleague. Bereavment effects us all in different ways and we express our bereavement through grief.
The symptoms of grief
Dealing with grief is a unique process and it can affect everyone differently. Grieving is a very private and personal matter; some people prefer to grieve by carrying on with their usual routine as soon as they feel comfortable, whereas others may seem withdrawn and may remove themselves from their daily social environment.
Understanding whether you are experiencing any of the following symptoms can often help you prepare for how you deal with bereavement. Recognising what these signs are is a good way to learn how to cope, taking your time to feel these rather than brushing them aside as if nothing traumatic has happened.
1. Anger over a loved one passing
When grieving, it is not uncommon to feel angry. This can vary between feeling anger towards the person you have lost and how they died; whether you felt you had enough time with them; did you have the chance to say everything you wanted, or you may be feeling angry at the doctor over the treatment they provided.
Anger can also be a protective layer to diffuse your sadness as a way of coping. Either way, it is completely normal to feel angry over the loss of a relative, friend or partner. The reasons why are entirely unique to you.
Losing a loved one is a traumatic event. Not only does it make people feel deeply sad, but there is also a lot of personal admin which follows. Arranging a funeral, tying up finances and changing the name on legal documents can be quite stressful, particularly if you have lost a partner. With stress, it can cause a number of symptoms outlined below, including headaches.
Allowing yourself to recognise when you’re stressed will help with how you cope with all upcoming tasks. Remember to be kind to yourself and make time just for you to try and unwind and process everything that needs to be done, or perhaps do something which makes you feel good to help you relax.
When someone dies this can trigger a lot of fear and anxiety. Thoughts can race and ideas can pop into your mind over how you will cope; what to do next; how to behave around others, and whether these feelings will pass. Symptoms of feeling anxious can include feeling overwhelmed, distracted, feeling sick, poor concentration, trouble sleeping, chest pains, and even becoming confused.
The most important step to dealing with anxiety is being able to identify when you should slow down. Feeling anxious can often cause you to ‘speed up’ and potentially take too much on to distract from the fear of feeling alone or the pain caused by a loss. Similarly to feeling anger, people grieving often feel anxious as this is the body’s natural response as a way to ‘keep going’ (think flight or fight) and to delay feeling (and even accepting) the deep sadness caused by loss. However, taking a step back and making time to talk, such as talking therapies, through what you’re feeling can help reduce these symptoms.
Depression is a common sign of dealing with grief. There are many stages to dealing with grief, and depression is often a symptom of the body trying to cope with a lot of emotions which can, in effect, cause you to shut down. Feeling helpless, tired, not wanting to get out of bed and feeling really low are all symptoms of depression.
If you’re feeling depressed, surround yourself with things that make you feel good about yourself. This can range from reflecting back on memories of the loved one who has passed, or even by doing something as simple as seeing friends for dinner, or having a weekend away can help lift the signs of feeling extremely low. Counselling and talking therapies provided by mental health professionals are brilliant to help you understand and cope with these emotions when someone has died.
5. An increase in appetite
Everybody deals with grief in different ways, and an increase in appetite is a common side effect. Eating more than usual or ‘comfort eating’ can help soothe the symptoms of feeling low, as food becomes a replacement or comforter to cope with the overwhelming sense of loss.
6. A loss of appetite
Often a sign of shock and feeling numb, bereavement can also cause people to eat less, which can often be a side effect of anxiety or major depression. Eating the right food is important to keep you healthy and make sure you have enough energy to process your bereavement. If you’re low in calories this can affect your mood, which naturally will have a knock-on effect towards your general wellbeing.
It is completely normal to have either more or less of an appetite if you’re grieving. Your appetite will soon return as you process and come to terms with your loss.
Several symptoms of grief have been diagnosed by the NHS. Your GP will be happy to help provide more information on bereavement and to get the support you need.
How to deal with bereavement
1. Let it all out
Coping with bereavement is not something you should expect to change overnight. To grieve is allowing yourself time to heal and let your pain out. When you feel sad, feel it, don’t hold it in. It is ok to feel sad and cry when you are grieving.
Whether it’s going for a long walk, or taking a trip away; whatever you feel is best to help let out your emotions is a fantastic first step to coping with loss, as long as you do not pose a risk to yourself.
2. Find a support network
Speak to friends and family members about how you’re doing, even if you don’t bring up the topic of loss, it’s good to keep engaged with people, and to be around people when you’re ready to socialise and process your feelings. Doing this can actually help make things seem ‘normal’. Sometimes withdrawing yourself can make socialising with others a bigger task than initially thought, as the longer you avoid it, it can build into a bigger task to face.
Keeping in touch with your support network can help alleviate these thoughts in a non-judgemental environment. Your support network can provide reassurance in keeping you motivated and at ease with continuing your usual routine. If you find yourself surrounded by people who don’t support you or aren’t understanding what you’re experiencing, there is nothing wrong with removing yourself from that situation.
3. Don’t feel guilty
People who are grieving can often feel guilty that they are continuing with their lives as to sitting at home and shutting themselves away from any source of happiness. This is completely normal. It’s only natural if you dwell on the fact you’re having a good time even though there has been a traumatic event in your life. The main thing is to share these feelings with your support network so they can provide reassurance and care.
4. Remember the good times
When you’re ready, remember the good times you had with the person you lost. It can be quite useful to reflect back on happy memories, which may feel sad, but can also motivate you and feel comfort by knowing that those memories will always exist and never go away.
5. Keep active
Keeping active doesn’t have to mean participating in sports. Tasks which you have always enjoyed or even trying new things, such as volunteering, is a positive way to distract yourself and keep you busy from dwelling on negative thoughts. Positive activities like this can be reassuring and give hope that life continues – you can do this! Although, understandably, it may seem very overwhelming at the time.
6. Surround yourself with good people
Spend time with good people who make you feel good about yourself and are understanding of your feelings. Make time with people who are fun and positive. Try not to put a time frame on when these social gatherings should feel ‘normal’. They may seem a bit awkward at first but they will soon become more enjoyable and help you to ease back into your usual social routine.
7. Give yourself time
Forcing yourself to seem ‘OK’ and ‘happy’ can affect how you deal with grief is a natural front commonly undertaken by someone who has experienced a loss. Throughout this process, you have to give yourself time to heal and take each day as it comes; whether that’s embracing a particularly upsetting moment, or taking delight in a lovely sunny day. What can seem tricky to comprehend at first, life does go on, grieving does get easier and you are entitled to continue your life and enjoy it.
How long does the grieving process take?
Dealing with bereavement is unique to the person going through it. Grieving can last a long time, but what gets easier with time is learning how to cope with the change in circumstances, how it has affected you and moving on. Going through the stages of grief can only begin once you start to confront the death of a loved one and grieve at a pace which feels right for you.
For more support and advice on dealing with bereavement