Living life after the death of a loved one

14 May 2020

Our bereavement support team have noted a few ways to help you if you're experiencing grief and ways to maintain your wellbeing.

Be kind to yourself

You’ve suffered a great loss and, in some instances, maybe even trauma. Give yourself special care - treat yourself as you would a good friend if they were suffering. Make sure you take time to rest, eat healthily, and exercise when you can, and don’t place too higher expectations on yourself, especially around what you might achieve in a day.

Take each day a step at a time, pace yourself and learn to accept what is within your control and what is not. If it feels difficult to plan your day, make it more manageable by just planning hour by hour or even by just what you are going to do in the next few minutes.

Try mindfulness activities or relaxation breathing even if just for a few moments when you feel anxious as these may help you feel calmer. Take time to notice nature when out on your daily exercise - perhaps listen to an audiobook, or do something creative that helps temporarily distract you.

If you have children to care for, it can, at times, feel hard to balance your needs and theirs. Just doing simple things together as a family like having a cuddle, going for a walk, colouring or playing a game can help you all to still feel connected.

No one knows you better than you know yourself, so if you feel you are in need of more support, reach out to others who might be able to offer you or your children the type of support that you need.

Feelings and emotions

The only way out of grief is through it. Remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve; your grief is unique to you so do not compare yourself to others even if they have gone through something similar. Try to acknowledge and accept your feelings, whatever they might be, and understand that your feelings can change frequently and without warning which can at times be tiring and confusing.

Depression, anger, fear, guilt, regret, loneliness, relief, peace and happiness are just some of the ‘normal’ feelings we can experience in grief. Crying is a natural way to release tension and sorrow. Laughter and finding joy in even the little things is also equally as important. See both as gifts; and allow yourself to accept them as part of your grieving process.

Children will grieve too but this might look very different to your own grief. Children will often dip in and out of grief and this might at times be a concern to parents, but it is again very normal. Keep talking as a family, answer any questions as honestly as you can and keep information you share with children factual to reduce feelings of confusion.

Having routines and boundaries are important as these help children feel safe when the world around them may now seem a scarier place to be. Allow them opportunities to share their feelings even if they are different to yours and reassure them whenever you can. Encourage them to speak to someone else they can trust if they do not feel able to talk to you. Allow them a space in which to be creative and to express themselves; for example through drawing or writing down their feelings.

Reaching out and connecting with others

Now, more than ever, having people around that you can trust and relate to is important. Let your friends and family know what you need from them and do not presume they should know - offering a listening ear, a helping hand, time to talk to you about your loved one or a safe space in which for you to offload your feelings might be some of the ways in which they can help.

You may prefer time to yourself rather than the company of others and that’s OK too, but it’s important to find a balance and not to close off completely from those that care about you.

Keeping clear lines of communication open is really important to avoid upset and confusion for all concerned. For example, if a friend tries to call and you do not feel like talking to them, then a simple text to say “Sorry, I don’t feel like talking today, but can you call me tomorrow” is all you need and sounds clearer than saying “Sorry, I don’t want to talk” or not responding at all, as either of those responses might leave them not knowing when to try contacting you again for fear of getting it wrong.

Cherish your fond memories and accept there may be difficult ones too

When someone you love has died it can be difficult to pause and consider: What made you smile today? What are you grateful for? 

Allow yourself permission to enjoy life alongside all of the wonderful memories you have of your special person. All that you shared and the many memories made are still very much alive.

Some people worry they may forget important things that remind them of their loved one over time. Having a memory box filled with special belongings, writing down your memories with key dates and events, or having photographs around are just a few ways to preserve and treasure them. Let these memories bring comfort to you when times are hard.

As you think about your relationship with your loved one you may also bring to mind areas of hurt or regret. If this happens, give yourself permission to forgive; be that forgiving the person who has died, yourself or someone else. Talking through difficult feelings can sometimes be easier with someone who is not emotionally connected to your bereavement, such as a bereavement counsellor or a friend. They may be able to offer you another perspective or way of thinking as you navigate your way through this difficult and emotionally challenging time.

Managing change

You and your life will have changed following your bereavement, and this in itself can be a challenge and a difficult thing to accept. There may be things related to your bereavement that remain unfinished, make you feel unsettled or stop you from having a sense of closure. If this is the case, it is important to identify what these things are, and to work through them. Having clarity and a clearer perspective on where you are in your grieving process is so important, especially before making any major decisions or changes that could impact on your home, work or social life longer term.

Remember, you're not alone

Grief can feel very isolating at the best of times as the world and the people around you appear to be just ‘getting on’ with life. Please know that there is always someone you can speak to whether that is through your friends and family, GP or the many other organisations that exist to support us all through tough times.