Answers to common questions about grief

When someone dies, the people close to them can feel a whole range of emotions. Each person’s experience will be different, and there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Read more on some of the questions we frequently hear about grief and bereavement.

What does grief feel like?

These are just a few of the most common reactions bereaved people often have. They may experience many other emotions, and their feelings may change over time:

  • Emotional pain – A loved one’s death can be hugely distressing and painful, making it hard for people to carry on with their normal lives. 
  • Deep sadness – People often experience great sadness after someone has died, which can give rise to feelings of depression and hopelessness.
  • Shock – Death can often be sudden and unexpected. Even when someone has been ill for a long time, their friends and family may still feel a sense of shock after they have died. 
  • Relief – If the person’s death came after a long illness, those close to them may feel relieved. They might feel bad about this, but it’s a normal response and doesn’t mean they didn’t love them or don’t care. 
  • Guilt – A bereaved person may regret things they did or didn’t do or say before their loved one died. Sometimes they may blame themselves in some way for the person’s death.
  • Anger – A grieving person may feel angry with themselves, other people, or the person who has died. Their anger may come out suddenly at unexpected moments. 
  • Anxiety – Many people have feelings of anxiety after losing someone close to them. They may feel generally anxious, or worry about the future and how to cope.
  • Numbness – This can be a reaction to very difficult emotions, and may mean that people don’t cry or appear to be upset. Their feelings will usually return over time. 

Grief can affect the body too, causing physical symptoms. People often find it hard to sleep, don’t feel like eating, experience aches, pains and tiredness, and get ill more easily.

The intense emotions caused by grief can sometimes feel overwhelming, so it’s important that bereaved people have supportive family and friends around them.

When will a bereaved person feel better?

Coming to terms with the loss of a loved one can take a long time. People will have good days and bad days, and it can sometimes feel like an emotional rollercoaster. 

In the year after someone has died, their friends and family members will have to deal with the first birthday, Christmas and holidays without them. Even if they appear to be getting on with their life, they may often feel profoundly sad. 

Everyone’s experience will be different, so try not to create expectations around how a bereaved person should be feeling by a particular point in time. 

Most people’s feelings of loss will gradually become easier to cope with, but grief doesn’t disappear. People find ways to live with it, but some still feel deep sadness years later. 

How can I support someone when I’m grieving too?

If someone close to you has died and your friends or family are grieving too, you may all have different reactions and ways of coping. It can help to remember that people’s behaviour may not reflect how they are feeling inside. 

Even if you are close to someone, you may not know what they need. Try to be open and give them space to talk and ask for support if they want to. Remember that you may be going through different emotions and that’s OK – there are many ways to grieve. 

Supporting someone else when you are grieving too can be particularly hard. Make sure you allow space for your own grief, and have other people you can talk to. Look after yourself by trying to eat regularly and get enough sleep.

If you don’t feel you have the support you need you can join our Online Bereavement Community, find a local bereavement support group, or speak to your GP about counselling and other options.

When should a bereaved person seek professional help?

Very intense emotions are a normal part of the grieving process. They can last a long time, but most people do learn to cope with them. Sometimes though, they may need professional bereavement support.

Signs that a bereaved person might need extra help can include: struggling to focus or concentrate, lack of energy, staying in their room, feelings of depression or anxiety, panic attacks, losing interest in things they used to love, and finding unhealthy ways to cope, such as heavy drinking.  

If things don’t improve within a few weeks, encourage the person to see their GP. They will be able to help them find the right support, which could include counselling, group therapy or medication. 

What should I say to someone who has been bereaved?

When someone has died, people often worry about what to say to those close to them. Simply acknowledging what has happened by saying “I’m so sorry for your loss” is a good place to start. 

Grief is different for everyone, so try not to make assumptions about how the bereaved person will be feeling. Instead, ask questions like “How are you doing?” or “Would you like to talk about it?” and leave space for them to tell you if they want to. 

Let the bereaved person know that however they’re feeling is OK. You could acknowledge how hard it is for them by saying something like, “I’m sorry you’re going through something so tough”. Telling the person you’re thinking of them may help them feel supported too.

What can I do to support a bereaved person?

Bereaved people have told us that what they find most helpful is being able to speak freely about how they’re feeling. So let the person know you are there for them and ready to listen if they want to talk. 

People generally appreciate receiving letters and cards from friends or family. You don’t necessarily need to say a lot, just offering condolences and support can help. Or you could share positive memories of the person who has died, if you knew them. 

Helping with practical things, such as organising the funeral, can also be a great support. Or you could help in other ways by cooking the person a meal, doing housework, going food shopping or looking after children.

Inviting a bereaved person to do activities with you is a good idea too. It could be going on a walk, going to a class or a trip to the cinema – anything you think they might enjoy. You might also want to send them a gift, such as flowers, to show you are thinking of them. 

An older man is sat on a living room sofa holding an ipad and with a mug on the table in front of him. He's looking at a yellow dog at his side and has his hand up to pet the dog.

Bereavement advice and support

Our expert support provides ways to deal with the practical and emotional issues after someone has died.

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