Learning to live with grief
The death of someone in your life is difficult, and it can take time to process your feelings
Losing a loved one is extremely difficult, and can bring up many emotions. Grief can affect people in different ways, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
It can take time to come to terms with the fact that a person is no longer with you. It’s important to give yourself the space you need to experience these feelings and remember to reach out to friends and family for support. There are also bereavement services available for anyone struggling with the loss of a loved one or if you just want to talk to someone you do not know. You can find more information about these services at the end of this article.
In this article:
Physical and emotional symptoms of grief
There are a number of different feelings you might experience after someone you love dies, and they can be both physical and emotional. You may feel some of these emotions, all of them, experience them in no particular order or not experience them at all. Everyone's experience is unique to them and none of these feelings are more important than others.
Psychological or emotional symptoms can include:
Feeling numb from the shock
Experiencing anxiety or stress
Physical symptoms can include:
Feeling tired or exhausted
Having a tightness in your chest
A change in your appetite
Aches and pains
A hollow feeling in your stomach
Understanding the grieving process
You may have heard of the stages of grief that people can go through after the loss of a loved one. Previously, it was thought that people grieving went through these stages one after another, however now we know that everyone grieves in different ways and that you can switch back and forth between emotions as you process your grief.
It can be easy to create expectations that you should feel a certain way about your loss or after time has passed, but everyone experiences grief differently. What is important is not expecting to feel a certain way by a certain time, but instead prioritising self compassion and allowing yourself to grieve at your own pace.
Below are some of the emotions you may feel after a death, again remember there is no particular order to these, some of these emotions will overlap, come and go or may be constant:
Being shocked and numb
When a death of a loved one first happens you may feel numb, or maybe you will feel what is happening isn’t real. Talking to other people about what has happened can help to process these feelings.
Feeling on edge from longing
You may feel a longing to see the person you have lost and this feeling can make it difficult to relax or concentrate. People can often dream about their loved one or experience seeing them, feeling a yearning to want to see the person again so badly can be common.
After a death people can often feel angry both towards the situation and to people in their lives. Some people experience feeling angry at the person who has died for leaving, or at the world for carrying on as normal when your world feels like it has stopped. These feelings are normal and there is nothing wrong with you for feeling this way in the moment.
Often people can feel guilty about what they wish they had done before the person they loved died. People can also feel guilty if there is a sense of relief when a person dies if they have been ill for a long time, if they feel they could have prevented the death or they feel guilty that they themselves are still alive. Feeling guilt is a common experience after a death but it is important to remember that the death of who you loved was out of your control and to try and be kind towards yourself during this time.
Feelings of sadness
Crying and feeling overwhelmingly sad can be a large part of grief when someone you love dies. Feelings of sadness can be a reflection of just how much you miss the person and you may feel more upset on some days than on others. Spending time thinking of the person you have lost can help you come to terms with their death and manage feelings of sadness.
Depression can be a much more intense feeling than sadness and make daily things in life seem unimportant, such as routine, friendships or work. Feelings of depression may be temporary or could last longer, especially if you have experienced depression before. However you are feeling, you can find support by talking to your GP or a counsellor.
Feelings of emptiness, as if there is a part of your life missing, can be very intense after the loss of a loved one. These feelings may never go away but as time passes they often lessen and you can begin to feel whole again while still missing those you have lost.
Accepting the loss of a loved one takes time and not everyone’s experience of acceptance is the same. If you come to a place of acceptance you can still feel sad and miss those who you have lost, but alongside these feelings you may also find ways to cope and to enjoy life again. Accepting someone’s death does not mean that you have forgotten about them or love them less, your feelings for them are still there and can help to keep them with you as you begin to look forward in life.
Learning to live with grief
How you deal with grief is a very personal thing. You might find that what helps others is not as helpful for you. Remember, there's no such thing as closure when it comes to human emotions or the way we grieve. We live with grief and our grief becomes a part of our identities. If you need support to get through this time, you can find a list of services at the end of this article.
Give yourself time
This is not something you can rush. Experiencing the death of someone is a big thing to process, and you will need to allow yourself the time to come to terms with it. Even if it seems like others around you are moving on, it’s okay to still find life hard without the person you’ve lost. It’s worth remembering that even if someone looks like they’re doing okay, they may still be having a difficult time too.
If you live far away or you weren’t able to mark the person’s passing by attending a funeral or another ritual for whatever reason, it might take even more time to process that this has happened, since you will have missed some of the usual rituals that can help us come to terms with someone’s death. Give yourself the space to grieve and maybe find some personal ways to mark your loved ones memory that is meaningful to you.
Be kind to yourself
Try not to expect too much from yourself too soon. Having a lot of demands or responsibilities to take care of while you’re grieving is a lot of extra stress and when your energy is low it can feel impossible to manage it all. Reach out to friends, family members or work colleagues for support and ask if they can take up some of those responsibilities for a while until you’re feeling better. Remember it is normal to feel confused and overwhelmed.
Oftentimes, when someone is grieving after the death of a loved one people want to help but worry that they won't do or say the right thing. Offering them tasks like cooking, cleaning or doing messages for you will allow them to support you and for you to get some space for yourself if that's something you want.
Look after yourself
When a death occurs, grief can make it harder to do things that are good for you like eating well, getting sleep and going for exercise. If you’ve lost your appetite, eating smaller meals more often throughout the day can help. Try and take the time you need to rest and get some sleep, and go for light exercise like walks when you can. These are some ways that you can care for yourself while grieving, but you're the expert of your own needs.
When someone dies, friends, family members and neighbours might reach out to offer support. They are there because they want to help you through this time, and it’s okay to lean on them and let them help. Saying "yes" to offers of support you may receive can be away of allowing those close to you do be there for you.
It's also okay to feel resentment or anger towards your friends or family for not understanding what you're going through. Trying to talk, write or share how you're feeling with those around you will support them to support you better.
Acknowledging grief bursts
After someone dies, there are many things that can remind us of the person. This can sometimes be hard if you weren’t expecting the grief to hit you in that moment, sometimes a song or a smell can catch you off guard and you feel unexpectedly and intensely sad. These are often called ‘grief bursts’ and can hit at any time. Often people take a moment and use a grief burst as a way to remember the person who has died.
Find your own way to remember them
Remembering a loved one creates connections to memories which can be healing and often painful at the same time. Doing things like keeping their favourite flowers in their house, listening to their favourite song, or something else that makes you think fondly of them can be a way to keep their memory alive and help you to feel connected to them.
This can be especially helpful if you’re unable to be close to other friends and family who knew the person, or if you were unable to go to the funeral or take part in any other memorial services. It allows you to make the space to remember their life and process what has happened. Remember that something that felt healing one day may feel too painful to do on another day and that's okay, take things at your own pace and trust in how you feel.
Sometimes when a death has been sudden, traumatic or a death by suicide, it is hard not to focus on the nature of the death. In time you can try to remember how they lived and not focus solely on how they died.
Talk to someone
Grief is not something that you need to go through alone. Talking about how you’re feeling is an important part of processing your emotions and coming to terms with loss. Talk to someone when you are ready about what you’re going through, whether that’s a friend or family member who knew them, or someone who did not. If you do speak to someone who was close to them, bear in mind that they may be grieving too, and make sure they’re ready to talk.
There are also a number of services available to support you and give you a space to talk about what you’re going through. Going for bereavement counselling can be an option to find a way to cope with your grief. Many counselling services will offer bereavement support. Find out more about going for counselling.
Bereavement counselling and support in Ireland
There are a number of support services available to help you at this time and throughout your grief process.
Rainbows Ireland for children and young people under 18
Anam Cara for bereaved parents and siblings
Barnardos Children’s Bereavement Service for families & children/young people under 18
You can also reach out to any counselling service to ask about bereavement counselling. Learn more about going for counselling.
Sometimes you may not feel counselling is what you would like and yet you feel the need to talk to someone external to your friends and family for support. You can also contact any of the support lines below:
Irish Hospice Foundation Bereavement Support Line
The Bereavement Support Line was set up by the Irish Hospice Foundation in partnership with the HSE to offer support to those who have lost someone during the COVID-19 pandemic. The line is available to any adult who has been impacted by bereavement - not just those who have lost someone to COVID-19. It is also available to those who lost someone before the pandemic, but who are finding things hard at the moment.
The line is available:
- Between 10am and 1pm, Monday-Friday
- Freephone 1800 80 70 77 to speak to someone during those hours
Barnardos’ Children’s Bereavement Helpline Service
Barnardos Helpline Service:
- Call (01) 473 2110
- Open between 10am-12pm Monday to Thursday to members of the public seeking information and support in relation to bereavement
- The Helpline is operated by fully trained and supported volunteers
Samaritans are a 24/7 active listening service, there to listen to you no matter what’s going on. You can talk to a Samaritans volunteer for free by calling 116 123 any time of the day or night.
Childline has a 24 hour freephone number for under 18’s
- You can call 1800 666 666 any time, day or night
- Their text service is available from 10am to 4pm every day
- You can start a conversation by texting 50101
- You can also chat online at childline.ie from 10am to 4pm every day
Pieta House offer support to those who have been bereaved by suicide. This includes both their 24/7 helpline and counselling services as well as immediate help for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
If you are in a crisis, you can contact Pieta House any time:
- Freephone 1800 247 247
- Text HELP to 51444
- Or call 0818 111 126 to make an appointment with a therapist
My Mind are an online counselling services who are offering free counselling to those who have been bereaved due to COVID-19 and earn under €350 a week.
Visit MyMind for more information.
50808 is a free, 24/7 text message support service providing everything from a calming chat to immediate support for people going through a mental health or emotional crisis - big or small.
To talk to a trained volunteer now, free-text SPUNOUT to 50808 to begin.
If you are a customer of the 48 or An Post network or cannot get through using the ‘50808’ short code please text HELLO to 086 1800 280 (standard message rates may apply). Some smaller networks do not support short codes like ‘50808’.