How do people feel when they have experienced bereavement?

How do people feel in the hours and days after a bereavement?

Bereaved people often describe shock soon after the death of a loved one.

  • They may feel numb, panicky, very weepy or unable to cry at all
  • Find it difficult to sleep
  • Have physical symptoms such as heart palpitations or a loss or appetite
  • Calmly go through the practical tasks surrounding the death, and worry that they may be seen as uncaring. This is just one of the signs of shock and it is most likely that they will feel the impact of the death at a later point
  • Find themselves completely unable to cope and need a lot of practical and emotional support from those around them at this point

How do people feel weeks and months after a bereavement?

Many bereaved people feel a sense of agitation for quite a long time after the death. They may become very active at this time, doing things like cleaning the whole house. This agitation can sometimes amount to panic and symptoms of anxiety such as breathlessness, palpitations, dry mouth, tingling and dizziness can be present.

Some feel they are “going mad” because they have such odd experiences. They often report seeing, hearing or feeling the dead person near them or in the distance. These experiences are not unusual following death. These feelings may alternate with depression, weepiness, tiredness and low mood.

Many think or wonder “what is the point of going on?”. They may feel guilt and review the circumstances of the death and their relationship with the person who died. They may wonder what they could have done differently which might have helped the situation. Guilt is also common when there has been relief at someone’s death following a painful and prolonged illness. It is worth remembering that many people feel relief when suffering ends.

Often many feel angry after a death. This can be directed at the dead person “why has he left me?” or at those around. Family members or people involved in caring for the dying person may be the target for the bereaved person’s anger. They might think or ask “Why didn’t you do more?”

Others people’s reactions may be difficult for the bereaved person. Sometimes people will be clumsy in what they say or do.  Occasionally people will avoid contact with the bereaved person. These reactions are usually because people do not know what to do or say in the face of someone’s grief. Sometimes other people do not realise that it can take a long time to recover from a death.

When do people begin to recover from bereavement?

Coming to terms with a death is a very gradual process which can take a considerable time. People usually find that gradually they are able to get on with their lives and think a little less about the person they have lost. Most people begin to feel like this within one or two years of the death of someone close to them. It may be difficult to accept the death of a loved one but still be possible to move on with life in spite of this.

It is important not to feel guilty if you are beginning to build a life for yourself following a death. It is quite normal to begin to recover and start to rebuild your life, and is not in any way disloyal to the memory of the person who has died.

Can anti-depressants help?

Your doctor may offer anti-depressants, to help through the early phase following the death. They can make you feel calmer and may help in the short term but are not necessarily helpful for longer term use. Tablets cannot treat the cause of someone’s grief which is the loss itself.