Symptoms of grief

You may experience a range of emotions after your relative or friend has died. These feelings may occur soon after the person has died, some weeks or months afterwards, or both. Some may last a short time, while others go on for longer. You may find they come and go. There is no ‘normal’ for how you will feel. You will need to take things day by day.

Some of the more common feelings and experiences people often describe are:

  • shock and numbness
  • anger
  • guilt
  • loneliness
  • fear
  • sadness
  • longing
  • crying
  • relief.

All these are natural reactions to the loss of someone. You are not alone in your feelings and what you are going through is normal and understandable.

Many people also have physical symptoms after the death of a relative or friend. These can be frightening, but physical reactions are quite common. If physical symptoms continue for more than a week or two, you should discuss them with your GP.

Your feelings after someone close to you has died

The information on this page is about the thoughts and feelings you may have following the death of your relative or friend. We also have information about the support that may be available and what you can do to help yourself.

The feelings we describe are ones you may feel soon after the person has died, some weeks or months afterwards, or both. They may come and go. Some may last a short time, while others go on for longer. There is no ‘normal’ for how you will feel. You will need to take things day by day.


Emotional symptoms of grief

It isn’t possible for us to fully understand how you are feeling and talk about all the different emotions here. But we have included information on some of the more common feelings and experiences people often describe. We have also included quotes from people who have been bereaved, to help show how intense and deep the feelings may be. We hope this will help you know that you are not alone in your feelings, and that what you are going through is normal and understandable. These quotes are from the two bereavement groups on Macmillan’s Online Community and from healthtalkonline.org


Shock and numbness

Many people describe feeling shocked and numb in the days and weeks immediately after the death of a relative or friend. This can happen even if the death was expected. People sometimes talk about ‘going through the motions’ as they make arrangements for the funeral and start to sort out practical things.

I think that in times of great shock, the brain somehow “shuts down” in order to try to protect us until we are ready to process the emotions. I think that dealing with the practicalities that follow the death of a loved one does divert you and somehow forces you to carry on.

Sam


Anger

Anger is a common feeling following the death of a relative or friend. Some people describe being shocked at how angry they feel. Try not to worry about it, because it’s a normal feeling to have. Anger may be directed at different people. You may feel angry with:

• the doctors for not being able to cure your relative or friend’s cancer

• your relative or friend for leaving you on your own with so much to sort out

• the people around you for not understanding how you feel.

I was very angry. I was angry with the hospital too, but I was very polite. I think being very organised and keeping myself very busy got me through it.

Cassie


Guilt

People feel guilty for different reasons after the death of a relative or friend. You may think that if you had said or done something differently, they might not have died. If you are feeling like this, you might find it helpful to talk to the doctor or a nurse who was caring for your relative or friend. You could also talk to your GP.

There may be some things you wish you had been able to say to your relative or friend, or do with them while they were still alive.

Some people feel guilty because they are relieved that their relative or friend has died (see below).

The guilt is difficult to deal with. I beat myself up about whether I did enough. Could I have cared for them better? Did they know how much I loved them? The list is endless, but the one thing I have come to understand over the past year is that the guilt element is perfectly normal. For me it emphasises just how much I loved my other half and that if I could, I would have changed places with them.

Fiona


Loneliness

Many people describe feeling intensely lonely following the death of a relative or friend. This is very understandable, particularly if the person who has died is someone you have shared your life or your home with for a long time.

Loneliness is often described as a constant feeling that doesn’t go away. People describe feeling lonely even when they are going about their everyday lives and surrounded by family and friends. This is not unusual and it will take time to get used to the person not being around. You may think you see a glimpse of the person and then remember they are no longer here. You may find yourself talking to the person who has died. It is fine to do this and you may find it helpful.

She would want me to get on with things, but I feel lost and unable to know where to go with this. I don’t feel like I have anyone to turn to any more. Mum was my best friend as well, and I feel so lost and lonely without her.

Alison


Fear

Fear is another common and natural feeling following the death of a relative or friend. For example, you may be fearful of having to do things on your own and how you’re going to manage. Or you may feel afraid of going back to work. Some people are frightened by the intensity of their feelings.

Many people are scared they will get cancer themselves and feel anxious every time they feel unwell. These feelings are understandable and usually get better with time.

I have developed a fear that I’m going to get cancer. Any pain could be it, at any time. I worry I’m going to have to go through it all again, but this time it’s going to be me, without my mum by my side to go through it with me.

Allison


Sadness

The sadness you feel following the death of a relative or friend can be overwhelming. Some people describe it as a physical pain. It can stop you wanting to do things like going out with friends, going to work or even getting out of bed. Some people become very depressed and stop looking after themselves properly. If this happens, they may need extra support. We have more information about this.

I’m living life, but not really living it. I feel really sad out of the blue, which catches me out. I’m always thinking about him, even at work. I get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach too. I’m just trying to put one step after the other every day.

Ros


Longing

Some people describe a feeling of intense longing to see, speak to or hold the person who has died. They desperately wish the person could come back again. This can make it difficult to get on with doing other things. Some people dream about the person who has died. This can be very upsetting when they wake up and realise the person is no longer here. For some people, the longing is so intense, it feels that life without that person is unbearable. If you feel like you can’t continue, ask for extra help and support to help you.

It is so very hard. I so much want to see my wife there sitting next to me again and be able to talk to her. I miss her voice so much. A year has gone past now, but I just can’t let go of that feeling. She was everything to me – my whole point of being alive and happy.

Gerry


Crying

Many people find that they cry easily after the death of a relative or friend. Crying can be a response to all the emotions we describe here. People often say they suddenly start crying when they least expect it, and often many months or years later. This may be triggered by hearing a song on the radio, or visiting a place that has happy memories for you and your relative or friend. Try not to worry about how often you cry. It’s a healthy response to your feelings.

Some people find they can’t cry, and this may worry them.

There is no need to worry if you don’t cry. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel the loss. Crying can’t usually be forced. Just do what feels right for you.

For six months after she died, I was regularly in tears. But I just assumed that was normal. It was very difficult – it’s just the pain of the loss. But I’m three and a half years on now, and even though I feel quite emotional at the moment, things have moved on. We are going forward.

David


Relief

Some people describe feeling relieved when their relative or friend dies. This may particularly be the case if they were very ill for a long time, needed a lot of care from you, or had symptoms that were difficult to control. When someone is suffering, it is natural to wish for their suffering to end. There is no need to feel guilty about this.

If you had a difficult relationship with the person who has died, you may not feel any of the emotions we have described here.

Or you may be surprised at how intense your feelings are.

I thought nothing could be worse than watching someone you love suffer so much. I think I felt relieved when he slipped peacefully away.

Debbie


Physical symptoms of grief

Many people have physical symptoms after the death of a relative or friend. These can be frightening. Some people say the symptoms are so strong that they worry they are seriously ill or may have cancer themselves. But physical reactions are quite common. They can include:

  • feeling sick
  • difficulty sleeping
  • exhaustion
  • poor concentration
  • your heart beating fast (palpitations)
  • dizziness
  • a poor appetite
  • losing weight.

If you have any of these symptoms and they continue for more than a week or two, you should discuss them with your GP.

My concentration and co-ordination were poor. Nobody tells you about the physical effects – the emphasis seems to be on emotional effects. This physical reaction took me completely by surprise.

Denise

Back to Coping with bereavement

Grief

Grief is a word for how we may feel after the death of someone close to us.

Your feelings

People describe having many different feelings after someone close to them has died.

Moving on

While life will never be quite the same, most people find that as time passes they begin to adjust.

Prolonged grief

If you continue to be overwhelmed by your feelings of grief, it is important to get help and support.