How grief can affect you

You may have many different emotions after your relative or friend 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
  • anger
  • guilt
  • loneliness
  • fear
  • sadness
  • longing
  • crying
  • relief.

All these are natural reactions. 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 are quite common. If you are worried about any the symptoms you should talk to your GP.

How you may feel after a bereavement

We talk here about some of the more common feelings and experiences people describe. We also have information about what may help you deal with these feelings.

We have 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 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 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.

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, 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.

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


Loneliness

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.

Loneliness is often described as a constant feeling that does not go away. 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.

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 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.

I have developed a fear that I am going to get cancer. I worry I am going to go through it all again, but this time, without mum.

Allison


Sadness

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.

‘I feel really sad out of the blue, which catches me out. I’m always thinking about him. I am just trying to put one step after the other every day.

Ros


Longing

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.

I so much want my wife sitting next to me and to talk to her. A year has gone, but I cannot let go of that feeling. She was everything.

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, 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.

For six months, I was regularly in tears. It was very difficult. I am three and a half years on, and though I feel quite emotional, things have moved on.

David


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. 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 (see below).

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.

The guilt is difficult. But what I have come to understand over the past year is that it is perfectly normal. It emphasises how much I loved my other half.

Fiona


Relief

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.

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. But physical reactions are quite common. They can include:

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

If you are worried about any of these symptoms, you should talk to 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.

Starting to move on

While life will change, most people find that they begin to adjust as time passes.

Prolonged grief

If you continue to find life difficult after a bereavement, it is important to get help and support.