Grief is a word for some of the feelings you may have after the death of someone close to you. Some people describe being overcome or frightened by their feelings. Others say they feel numb or cannot believe what has happened.
The thoughts and feelings you have will vary. Sometimes, they may be very intense and stop you doing things. At other times, they may be in the background and you can still do your day-to-day activities.
How you feel and react may depend on different things, such as:
- the relationship you had with the person who died
- if the death was expected
- how they died
- any previous experience of death you have had.
There is no right or wrong way to feel. Your feelings may change from day to day or even hour to hour. You may have the feelings soon after the person has died, and for some weeks or months afterwards.
One day you may feel you are coping, but the next day you may be overcome by sadness or loneliness. It is quite normal to have ups and downs like this.
If you had a difficult relationship with the person who has died, you may not feel any of the emotions we describe here. Or you may be surprised at how strong your feelings are.
We talk here about some of the more common feelings and experiences people describe when someone has died. These feelings may happen after the person has died or some time afterwards.
Some feelings may last a short time, while others go on for longer. You will need to take things day by day. There is no normal for how you will feel.
Some of the more common feelings people have are:
Shock and numbness
Many people describe feeling shocked and numb in the days and weeks after a relative or friend has died. 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.
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, as it is 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
- 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.
Many people describe feeling very lonely following the death of a relative or friend. This is understandable, particularly if the person who has died is someone you shared your life or your home with for a long time.
People describe feeling lonely even when they are going about their everyday lives and are surrounded by family and friends. This is not unusual. It may take time to get used to the person not being around.
You may sometimes think you see or sense 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.
Fear is another common and natural feeling after the death of a relative or friend. For example, you may worry about having to do things on your own and how you are going to manage. Or you may worry about going back to work or going out socially.
Some people are frightened by how strong their feelings are. Many people are scared they may have cancer themselves and feel anxious every time they feel unwell.
These feelings are understandable and usually get better with time.
The sadness you feel after 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, you may need extra support.
Some people describe an intense longing to see, speak to, or hold the person who has died. They 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 cannot continue, ask for extra help and support.
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, even months or years later.
You may start crying if you hear a song on the radio, or visit a place that has happy memories for you and your relative or friend. Try not to worry about how often you cry. It is a healthy response to your feelings.
Some people find they cannot cry, and this may worry them. There is no need to worry if you do not cry. It does not mean you do not feel the loss. Crying cannot usually be forced. Just do what feels right for you.
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.
There may be things you wish you had been able to talk about or do with them while they were still alive.
Some people feel guilty because they are relieved that their relative or friend has 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.
Some people describe feeling relieved when their relative or friend dies. This may be because they were very ill for a long time, needed a lot of care, 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.
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. But physical reactions are quite common. They can include:
- feeling sick
- difficulty sleeping
- feeling very tired (exhaustion)
- poor concentration
- your heart beating fast (palpitations)
- a poor appetite
- losing weight.
If you are worried about any of these symptoms, you should talk to your GP.
There is no one type of support that will suit everyone. Just as people have many different emotions, they will find different types of support helpful.
Talking to the person who has died
Even though your relative or friend has died, you may find it comforting to talk to them. Some people like to go to a special place to do this. This could be the cemetery or a place that has special memories. Others find it helpful to do this at home as they go about their day-to-day business.
If you find it difficult to talk to them, you may prefer to write a letter or set up a memorialised account on a social media site.
Talking to family and friends
Some people find it helpful to talk to family and friends about how they are feeling. You may talk regularly or just when you feel ready.
Sometimes it may be difficult and painful. You may cry or feel upset. But at other times, you may find you can share stories about your relative or friend and smile at happy memories. As time goes on, it often gets easier to talk about times you shared together.
Try to remember that the way you are feeling is normal, and that sharing your feelings with family and friends can help.
Talking to health professionals
Sometimes, it is easier to talk to someone who is not part of your family or friendship group. There is support available to you after someone dies. It is important to ask for help or talk to your GP if you feel you are not coping. They may refer you to a counsellor or therapist who can help.
You can call our cancer support specialists for free by calling the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 00 00, 7 days a week 8am - 8pm. They can tell you more about counselling and about services in your area.
Finding support groups
You may find it difficult to share your thoughts and feelings with family and friends. They may also be grieving, and you may feel you need to support them. You may not have any close family or friends, or you may just want to keep your feelings to yourself.
You may feel that only others who have experienced the death of a relative or friend can really understand how you are feeling.
Your local hospice or hospital may run a bereavement support group, or have details of a local one.
You can also phone the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 00 00, 7 days a week 8am - 8pm, for information and support.
Religious and faith groups
If you have a religion or faith, you may find this comforting following the death of your relative or friend. Or you may find that the death makes you ask questions about your faith or beliefs. Some people find meaning in a faith or belief they have not previously had.
Faith leaders are often available to listen and to offer support. They will not mind you crying or being angry. They may be able to tell you about other sources of support in their faith communities. Many faith leaders will offer support even if you have different beliefs or no beliefs.
Writing down your feelings
Some people find that it helps to write down how they feel. Keeping a diary, journal, or blog can be a way of expressing your feelings without having to talk about them.
If you are not sure where to start, try using our table below. You can use this to write down how you feel and what makes this feeling worse or better. We have written one feeling as an example.
If you are supporting someone who is grieving, it can sometimes be difficult to know what to do and say.
Reading this page may help you understand some of the thoughts and feelings they may have. It is important to remember that everyone will experience grief in their own way. Often the most helpful thing you can do is to just be there and listen.
The following things may also be helpful:
- Encourage them to talk and show their feelings. Do not worry if they cry or get angry. These are normal emotions after the death of a relative or friend. Remember they may need to do this on many occasions over a long period of time.
- Don’t feel you have to give answers or solutions. Just listening is often very helpful.
- Allow the person to grieve in their own time. Some people will need a short time, while others will need months or even years.
- Contact them at difficult times. Or ask the person to tell you when they think they will need support. This might be on special anniversaries and birthdays.
- Offer practical help. This could be with things like cooking, shopping, gardening, or cleaning. Ask the person if there is anything they would like you to do, or offer them suggestions.
You may be concerned that the person you are supporting is not coping. Or they may not be looking after themselves properly. Try to encourage them to speak to their GP. They may need some extra help.
Some people continue to find life very difficult following bereavement. They are still overwhelmed by their feelings for months or years after their relative or friend has died.
They may find it difficult or impossible to return to work or socialise with friends. Some people may not sleep well or even find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. They may stop washing and taking care of their appearance. They may also not eat properly. Some people may start to comfort eat or drink a lot of alcohol. Others may have suicidal thoughts.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. And there is no set period of time to grieve for. But if you continue to be overwhelmed by your feelings, it is important to get the right help and support. You should talk to your GP or another health or social care professional.
They can talk with you about how you are feeling and may suggest some extra support for you. This may include:
- referring you to a bereavement support group
- referring you to a bereavement counsellor, psychologist, or psychotherapist
- prescribing you medication to help with the way you are feeling.
If you would like more information about life after the death of a relative or friend, you can call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 7 days a week 8am - 8pm.