Grieving is a natural process that can take place after any kind of loss. When a loved one passes away this can be a very overpowering emotion that has to run its course. There are a whole succession of different feelings that can take some time to go through and must not be hurried. Although people are all individuals, the order in which they go through these feelings is very similar. For some hours or days following the death of someone who is close, most people feel totally stunned. A feeling of disbelief is common, even if the death has been expected, say after a long period of illness. This feeling of emotional numbness can actually be a help in dealing with the various practical arrangements that have to be made.

However this detachment from reality can become a problem if it goes on for too long. To overcome this, it can help to see the person who has died. Sometimes it’s not until the actual funeral that the reality of what has happened finally sinks in. Although it may be distressing to attend the funeral or to see the body, it is important to say goodbye to the ones we loved. It is often the case for people who did not do this, to experience a great feeling of regret for years to come.

After the feeling of numbness has gone it is often person who has died. This can effect the bereaved in their everyday life, it may be difficult to relax, concentrate or even sleep properly. Some people experience extremely disturbing dreams, others say that they actually see their loved ones everywhere they go, more commonly in the places they used to spend time together. It is also quite usual to feel angry at this time – towards doctors and medical staff for not preventing the death, towards people around them such as friends and relatives, or even towards the person who has left them.

Another common feeling is guilt. It is likely that the may even consider what they could have done to beyond the control of anyone, and they must be reminded of this.

Guilt is often experienced if a sense of relief is felt when someone has died, particularly after a distressing illness. This feeling of relief is perfectly natural and very common and is nothing to feel guilty about. These strong/confusing emotions are generally felt for about two weeks or so after the death and are generally followed by periods of sadness and depression.

Grief can be sparked off many months after the death by things that bring back memories. It can be difficult for other people to understand or cope with someone who bursts into tears for no apparent reason. Some people who can’t deal with this, tend to stay away at the time they are needed most of all.  It is best to return to a normal life as soon as possible, try to resume normal activities.  The phrase ‘Time is a great healer’ is in most cases certainly true, however the pain of losing a loved one never entirely disappears, nor should it be expected to.

For the bereaved partner there are constant reminders of their singleness – seeing other couples together and all the images seen on television of happy families.  All of them can make it difficult to adjust to a new, single lifestyle. The different stages of mourning tend to overlap and can show themselves in various ways. There is no ‘standard’ way of grieving as we, being individuals have our own ways of dealing with all life’s trials, not least the loss of someone we love.

Grief in children and adolescents

Generally children do not understand the meaning of death until they are three or four years old. Even with this being the case they feel the loss of a close friend or relative in much the same way as adults. Even in infancy it is clear that children grieve and feel great distress. Children experience the passage of time differently to adults and can therefore appear to overcome grief quite quickly. However, children in their early school years may need reassuring that they are not responsible for the death of a close relative as they often blame themselves for one reason or another. It is important that the grief of a young person is not overlooked as they will often not want to burden parents by talking about their feelings. For this reason they should usually be included in the funeral arrangements.

Friends and relatives can help

Generally by simply spending time with the person who has been bereaved. Being close to others can be a great source of comfort. It is not always necessary to say anything, just being there is enough. It is important that a bereaved person is able to talk and cry with someone without being told to pull themselves together.

It can also be difficult for people to understand why the bereaved keep covering the same ground, talking and apparently becoming distressed about the same things over and over again. This is an important part of the healing process and should really be encouraged. By not mentioning the name of the person who has died for fear of upsetting them, can indeed lead to a sense of isolation and can add to the grief of the bereaved.

Other difficult times when friends and relatives can be of help are festive occasions and anniversaries, which can be particularly painful for years to come. Practical help with domestic chores and looking after children can all lead to easing the difficulties facing the bereaved. Elderly bereaved partners may need more practical help than most, particularly with financial arrangements – paying bills etc.

Grief that is never resolved

Some people hardly seem to grieve at all. They can not cry at the funeral and appear to return to normal life remarkably quickly. For some people this is just their normal way of dealing with their loss and no harm occurs.

However others may suffer physical illness and periods of depression for some time to come. Sometimes people get stuck in the grieving pattern. The sense of disbelief and shock can just continue and never seem to end, whereas others cannot think about anything else but the loss of their loved one.

Both of these instances are damaging and there is a list of care associations who can help.

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