Coping when someone you care about dies can be really difficult. When someone important to you dies, it’s likely you’ll experience a mixture of feelings. People often use the word ‘grief’ to describe this mixture of feelings, as well as the process they go through as they learn to cope and adjust to life without the person (or animal) who’s died.
What is grief like?
There’s no one way to experience grief and there’s no right or wrong way to feel after someone important to you dies.
Some people find that their feelings change a lot, and that big emotions catch them by surprise. At first, grief can feel chaotic, overwhelming, or out of control.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmingly sad – you may cry a lot, want to isolate yourself from others, or spend lots of time thinking about your loved one and your memories of them.
Lots of people also feel shocked or numb, and some people talk about being confused and not being able to think clearly. This might be because our minds try to protect us from pain – feeling numb gives us the chance to process what’s happened at a pace we can manage.
It’s also normal to feel exhausted, panicked, angry (towards your loved one, the reason for your loss, or someone or something else) or guilty (about feeling angry, about something you said or didn’t say, or about not being able to stop your loved one from dying).
Sometimes you may feel relieved when a loved one dies, especially if you’d been a carer, if the relationship was difficult, or if the person or animal that has died had been ill or suffering. This isn’t an unusual response, and it doesn’t mean that you didn’t love or care about your loved one.
Grief can also affect your sleep, appetite, and physical health. This can make coping when someone you care about dies even more difficult.
Things you can do to help
It’s important that you don’t try to manage on your own. Try to talk about your thoughts and feelings with a friend, family member, or professional. We’ve got information about organisations you can chat to on our ‘Get help now’ page, and if you want to talk about grief, you could also call Cruse’s helpline.
Find strategies for coping when someone you care about dies that work for you. This could include making a memory box, full of things that help you to remember happy memories of the person or animal who’s died. It may also be useful to try to pay attention to what causes your mood to change, so you can start to learn how to manage difficult or triggering situations. You could use a mood diary app to help you keep track.
Try to take care of yourself by eating, moving in a way that feels good, and getting enough sleep. This might be especially difficult at first – try to speak to yourself kindly, focus on small things that feel more manageable, and ask for help if you need it.
Remember that you’re not alone. Most people experience grief after they lose someone important. Cruse Bereavement Support runs Hope Again, a website for young people where they can learn from others, find information about coping with grief, and feel less alone.
If you can, try to keep doing things you usually enjoy. It’s OK if you need to take a bit of a break, but you might find it helpful to keep up with hobbies, clubs, and activities.
When does grief become a mental health problem?
In most cases, grief isn’t a diagnosable mental health problem. It’s totally normal for grief to affect your everyday life at first. With time, people learn how to adapt to life without their loved one and manage difficult or upsetting days.
Sometimes, however, people continue to feel strong feelings of grief for a long time after their loved one has died. If your grief gets worse or harder to cope with and continues to affect your daily life for a long time, it’s important to ask for help.
The organisations on the Get help now page are there 24/7 to provide support. If you’re struggling to cope with stress, anxiety, or low mood, or you’ve had a low mood for more than two weeks, make an appointment to see your GP.
Coping with the loss of someone you care about is difficult, but with time and support, you can find things that help you manage. Over time, feelings of grief usually become less intense – people find a way to live with them and build new meaning in their lives.