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Coping with bereavement

Bereavement can be a very painful experience, affecting us all differently. Understanding more about it can help reduce its impact on your mental and physical wellbeing. In this guide, discover how to navigate the grieving process to help yourself and your loved ones.

Journeying through loss

Explore what it means to grieve, how it may affect your emotions and behaviour, and what to do if the sadness becomes too much to handle.

Bereavement, or grief, is the experience of losing someone important. From a partner, to a family member, friend or pet. When we grieve, we go through a personal process where we feel a number of different emotions. These can feel scary, but they’re completely normal, and are there to help us adjust to the sudden change.

The emotions you feel will vary, and they’ll likely lessen over time. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings in the moment, it’ll help you heal in the long run. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, but you may feel some of the following:

  • Shock, disbelief, and numbness that the person is really gone
  • Anger that this has happened to someone you care about. You may try to blame a doctor, yourself, or even the person who has died
  • Sadness that your life feels empty without them. You may find yourself very tearful
  • Depression, which happens when you can’t shake your grief and it develops into longer-term, more permanent feelings
  • Guilt about the things you said, didn’t say or feel you should have said to the person
  • Loneliness because they won’t be around for your future
  • Acceptance that they’re really gone

Your physical wellbeing can also be impacted by grief. It’s quite normal to:

  • Lose your appetite
  • Have low energy
  • Struggle sleeping
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Feel nauseous
  • Get ill more easily
  • Lose or gain weight
  • Experience unexplained aches and pains

Grief can also affect your behaviour, as your emotions run high trying to rationalise and accept what’s happened. Again, this is entirely normal. The key is to learn how to spot these changes and adapt where you can. You may:

  • Feel like you can’t talk about your feelings at all
  • Find yourself constantly thinking and talking about the death
  • Withdraw from your friends and family
  • Avoid places or situations relating to the death
  • Change your relationships with others
  • Neglect or give up your hobbies
  • Drink or smoke more, or rely on drugs
  • Avoid dealing with any practical matters

Sometimes it’s not possible to move past your grief. If your sadness gets stronger, feels constant and lasts longer, this can mean you’re experiencing depression.

If you’re ever unsure, speak to your GP first, or give us a call to talk things through.

Some things can actually make your grief feel worse and last longer. It’s good to acknowledge your emotions, but keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t feel constant. Things that may make your grief feel worse include:

  • A close relationship with the person who’s died
  • If their death was sudden
  • The nature of their death
  • Their age
  • Your own experiences with death
  • Whether you have a strong support network
  • How well you look after yourself
  • The reaction of others to the death
  • Your cultural or religious beliefs

When you’re grieving it can be tough to think about practical matters. Thankfully, support is out there to make things a little easier:

And if you still have questions, we’re here to help.

Steps to stay ahead

Follow the steps below to navigate the practical, physical and emotional aspects of grief.

Make a plan to manage any financial connections you had with the person who has passed away. From household bills, to mortgages or insurance – MoneyHelper‘s useful list can help you deal with any finances and understand what you may need to take control of.

You may be entitled to Bereavement Support Payment if:

  • You were under State Pension age when your spouse or partner died
  • They paid National Insurance contributions for at least 25 weeks in any single tax year since 1975
  • You were living in the UK when they died

For any legal matters you don’t understand or need to sort out, seek professional advice:

  • Call the government’s deceased estate helpline on 0300 123 1072 for specialist advice on probate and Inheritance Tax
  • Contact your local community law centre or the Law Society for help with legal advice costs
  • If you’re working, ask your line manager or HR about an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which may be able to help
  • Speak to our partner Law Express, for personalised advice from professional, experienced legal advisers
  • If you’re worried about the debts of the person who died, speak to our partner StepChange Debt Charity for free, impartial guidance

Get support from those you trust. Friends, family and colleagues may all be able to help with your grieving process. But if you’re not getting the emotional support you need:

  • Use the Counselling Directory’s directory to find a bereavement counsellor who can help
  • Get in touch with grief charity Cruse for website support and advice over the phone
  • If you support a particular religion, contact your place of worship to ask about any available support groups
  • Speak to WAY for peer-to-peer support if you’re under 51 and your partner has died
  • Explore Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide if you’ve experienced a death by suicide
  • Give us a call, we’re here to listen

Talking about grief at work can feel strange, but many organisations offer specialised support. Speak to your line manager or HR to:

  • Share your emotions
  • Tell your colleagues what’s happened
  • Find out about reduced hours, adjustments or bereavement counselling through your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

Grieving takes time, so be sure to look after your mental and physical wellbeing. Try not to blame yourself or overthink things. Small steps like the ones below can have a big impact on your longer-term recovery:

  • Try relaxation techniques including deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness
  • Stay active to boost endorphins and reduce anxiety
  • Try to improve your sleep with regular routines
  • Get some fresh air on a daily basis
  • Cut back on things like caffeine, alcohol or smoking
  • Stick to a healthy diet with help from the NHS
  • Stay in regular touch with friends and family

If you’re still struggling or can’t shake long-term grief, book an appointment with your GP as soon as possible. They’ll listen, assess your symptoms, and talk through a plan to help get you back on track.

Illustration depicting a mental health matters.

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