Grief is a normal response after someone dies. Everyone feels it in their own way. You’re likely to feel a range of emotions over time. At times, they may be very strong and can even feel overwhelming. Sometimes a memory or event, or a special date in the year, can cause fresh feelings of sadness.

It’s also quite normal to have physical symptoms as a result of grief. Let your GP know if you are worried about them.

Don’t be afraid to show your emotions or to ask for practical help or emotional support from family and friends. There’s also support available from professionals and support organisations for you and your family.

Take your time making decisions about your future. When you’re ready, you may also want to celebrate the life of your relative or friend, along with other people who cared about them.

How grief might affect you

Grief is a normal response to the death of someone close to you. It’s usually felt as a yearning for the other person. At times, the yearning can be so strong that it feels like very real physical pain. 

Everyone experiences grief in a different way, but most people move through some or all of the stages listed here. People often move backwards and forwards between these stages: 

  • numbness
  • denial, anger and guilt
  • pining or yearning
  • depression
  • gradual recovery and acceptance.

Emotional effects

Immediately after the death, and for some time afterwards, you may feel numb. You may find it hard to believe that the person is dead. It’s common to feel angry that the person has died. The anger may be directed at the person themselves for leaving you, or at other people, such as family members or health professionals, for not being able to stop them from dying.

The feeling of missing the person can be overwhelming. Many people continue to ‘see’ or ‘hear’ the person who has died, and have a strong sense of their presence. For example, some people walk into a room and have an experience of ‘seeing’ the person sitting in their favourite armchair.

Other people have vivid dreams where they see the dead person as fit and well. These are perfectly normal experiences, although they can be shocking and upsetting.

You may have times of severe anxiety and distress, where you strongly miss the dead person and sob or cry aloud for them. Although this tends to happen less often after the first couple of weeks, finding a photograph of them or visiting a place that holds strong memories can trigger the distress, even months or years afterwards.

Talking through your feelings at this time may be helpful.

There are many organisations, such as Cruse Bereavement Care, which run groups for people who are grieving. Your GP can put you in touch with a local bereavement counsellor if you’d like more formal one-to-one counselling. Many hospices also provide bereavement support for the families of people who have used their services.

If you have young children and teenagers, they will also experience a range of emotions. Very young children may not understand that they will not see the person who has died again. You may need to remind them of this several times.

This can be hard when you’re coping with your own grief. Teenagers can find coping with the death of a parent particularly difficult at a time when they’re also coping with other changes in their lives. There are many organisations that can help you to support your children.

If you have an older child or teenager, they may find it helpful to join an online forum for bereaved young people. Organisations such as RD4U and Winston’s Wish have forums where children and teenagers can chat to others or just share their feelings.

Physical effects

When someone close to you has died, it’s also common to have physical symptoms for some time afterwards. These can be frightening and some people say the symptoms are so strong that they worry they are seriously ill themselves.

However, physical reactions are normal and can include headaches, dizziness, a dry mouth, feeling weak, tightness in the chest and throat, breathlessness and feeling sick.

You may be aware that your symptoms are similar to those of your relative or friend who has just died. If any of these symptoms persist, you should let your GP know. 

Practical help

On the first day or so after the death, while you’re probably feeling numb, you may need plenty of practical help to do important tasks such as registering the death, arranging the funeral and coping with visitors. You may also need to spend some time on your own, coming to terms with what has happened. 

After the funeral

The period of time after the funeral, when everyone has gone home and you’re expected to get on with your own life, can be the hardest. It’s a good idea to try not to do too much too soon. You may need time to get used to your loss and the changes this has brought about. It’s important to take time to look after yourself.

Don’t be afraid to show your emotions during the grieving process. It’s perfectly natural to cry when you’re thinking and talking about your loved one, and this can help you feel better. Some cultures have specific practices to follow, which can help to mark each phase of the bereavement process after a person’s death.

Delayed grief

The grieving process is different for everyone and very personal. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if your feelings and emotions are normal. You may find that you get stuck at one stage of the grieving process, for example feeling very angry. If this happens, you may want to talk to your GP who may recommend counselling. 

Soon after a person’s death you may feel that you’ll never be able to live your life normally again. These feelings usually reduce over time, although this can take a year or more.

You will never forget the person and will always have memories of them. But people are usually able to get on with life again after a while and are able to enjoy activities and make plans for the future.

A very small number of people develop suicidal thoughts as part of the grieving process, either because they feel unable to face life without the person, or because they feel that their own death might bring them closer again. If you have suicidal thoughts, don’t be afraid to discuss them with your GP or a trusted friend or relative. You may need expert counselling and possibly medicines to help you feel better. 

Picking up your life again

You will probably experience a wide range of emotions when someone close to you, and who you have cared for in the last stages of their life, dies.

You may feel numb and shocked, however much you thought you had prepared for this moment. You may be deeply upset and at the same time relieved that now you can make plans for your own future, and perhaps also guilty that you are thinking of yourself at this time. All these are natural and normal emotions.

Coping with bereavement is a long process and you can expect to feel a variety of turbulent emotions for a long time. Even when your grief is no longer at its most acute, you may find that little incidents or memories suddenly bring back an overwhelming sense of loss.

If you’ve been caring for your relative or friend for a long time, it may seem quite frightening now to be free of those responsibilities, even if at times those same responsibilities were hard to deal with.

It’s probably a good idea to try not to do too much too soon. You may need time to get used to your loss and the changes that the death of the person you cared for has brought. If you make decisions in a hurry you may find, later on, that you regret not having waited until your grief had lessened - for example, before moving from the house you shared. Take time to look after yourself, perhaps giving yourself a few treats or a holiday, which you couldn’t have while your time was taken up with caring.

If you feel you need help in coping with your feelings at this time, there are a number of organisations that offer bereavement counselling.

Your doctor, or one of the other health professionals you have been dealing with, may be able to suggest a local service. If you are in touch with a priest or leader of your religious faith, they may be able to help you or suggest where you might find help.

You think "Will life ever be the same again?" The answer is no. But you do begin to appreciate every day and live life with a new outlook. Whatever the outcome, life can become more fulfilling and richer.

Sue, Former carer

Celebrating the life of your loved one

It’s common for feelings of grief to be brought up again at particular times. This may happen on the anniversary of the person’s death or on birthdays and anniversaries. At these times, you may feel many conflicting emotions and may like to do something to remember the person, such as go to the place where they’re buried, or somewhere that meant a lot to you both. You may want to have a gathering of relatives and close friends to share memories of the person and celebrate their life. You’ll know the best way to remember them. If you have children or teenagers, remember to include them in the plans. They may have their own ideas of how they can celebrate a parent, grandparent or a loved one’s life.

Working together to create information for you

We worked with Marie Curie Cancer Care to write our End of life information.

Thank you to all of the people affected by cancer who reviewed what you're reading and have helped our information to develop.

You could help us too when you join our Cancer Voices Network.

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After death

There will be practical tasks to do after someone dies, but take your time and ask for help if you need it.