Generally people expect to feel sad following a bereavement but many are surprised by some of the other emotional and physical manifestations. This article looks at some of these in more detail. This article does not cover complicated or unresolved grief.
Everyone at some point in his or her life is likely to experience bereavement. However, we can all feel very differently depending on the circumstances of the loss and who it is that we’ve lost. So what are common feelings after a bereavement?
The most important thing to remember is that every bereavement is different and every person is also unique. There is nothing wrong if you feel or act in a completely different way to how a relative or friend reacted when they lost a loved one.
Probably most people expect to feel sad and possibly cry. However, there are many other emotional and physical reactions that can be experienced. These can include:-
- Numbness – especially if the death was unexpected, a person can feel shock and denial following the loss of their loved one.
- Yearning – the bereaved person may experience strong feelings of agitation and yearning for the person they have lost.
- Guilt – there can be a feeling of guilt that enough wasn’t done to save the person. Another reason some feel guilty is that they didn’t tell the person something they now feel is significant, perhaps how much they loved them.
- Anxiety – the bereaved person may feel anxious about the future, particularly if they were dependent upon the person they have lost. Sometimes, there appears to be no explanation for the acute feelings of anxiety.
- Depression – sometimes feelings of sadness can develop into depression, which may require some intervention like counselling, to overcome it.
- Anger – this feeling is quite common after bereavement, perhaps because the bereaved person feels out of control. They may blame themselves, the person who has died or someone else, who they feel might have prevented the death.
- Loneliness – a person can feel isolated after the bereavement of a close partner, especially if they had been together for a long while.
- Exhaustion – grieving takes a lot of energy but exhaustion could also be as a result of not being able to sleep. Sometimes the bereaved may sleep too much.
- Forgetfulness – you may find it harder to concentrate because you are distracted by the bereavement and so be more forgetful than you usually are.
- Feeling like you’re going mad – you may feel like you are going a bit crazy after bereavement. If you are normally sociable, you may find you don’t want to see anyone, you might not be looking after yourself properly, not wanting to eat, sleeping badly or feeling confused.
- Physical symptoms – These could include aches and pains, upset stomach and some of the things mentioned above, such as tiredness and forgetfulness.
- Relief – if you were their fulltime carer, this could be because you no longer have the burden of supporting them. Or it could be because of a difficult relationship, perhaps the deceased person used to abuse you. It could also be because they were in a great deal of pain and you no longer have to watch them suffering.
Jane* lost her mother after 11 years of watching her deteriorating and suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease. In the final months before she finally died, her mother was bedridden with terrible bedsores, she was on a respirator for chronic chest infections and unable to speak or recognise anyone. When her mother finally died Jane felt a huge sense of relief. “At last she was no longer suffering,” she said. “The person I knew as my mum had died many years earlier but because she was still alive I was unable to grieve. She was clearly in pain and suffering in the last year of her life but could not complain and I was unable to help her.” This feeling of initial relief gradually turned to a guilty feeling. Jane felt uncomfortable about talking about how she felt to anyone she knew, so she contacted and worked through these feelings with a counsellor.
Mary* lost her husband of 40 years. They did everything together and tended not to socialise. Her two grown-up children had both married and moved abroad. After his death she felt extremely lonely and lost and she wasn’t sure how she could ever feel normal again. After talking about her feelings and situation with a trained bereavement support worker, Mary gradually rebuilt her confidence and made the first tentative steps to make new friends. No-one could ever replace her husband but she wanted to feel less isolated and meeting up with others helped her to achieve this.
(*Names changed to protect identity.)