Self-care for the bereaved

This Self Care Week, we spoke to Jane Murray, an Adult Bereavement Support Lead in our West Midlands Hospice, on how to take care of yourself when you have lost someone close to you.

When someone close to us dies, everything we knew as ‘normal’ changes in that moment. Initially we may be busy and distracted with practical matters such as funeral arrangements and settling estates to give much attention to both the emotional and physical impact on us.

It may be after the funeral, when everyone else’s lives appear to go back to normal, that you’re left wondering how you are going to survive.

Every person grieves and copes differently at this time, but there are some coping strategies you might find helpful:

Continue bonds

Death ends a life but it doesn’t end a relationship. If you are used to sharing your day and your news with the person who has died, then perhaps continue to do this. Many people continue to talk to the person who has died. This may sound strange, but it can bring comfort. Others find it helpful to write down what they want to say, in a journal or a letter.

Spend time with others

Those around you may not want to intrude on your grief and may believe that you will contact them if you need to. It can be very hard to pick up the phone or text someone to say you would like to talk or go out - find the courage to make that call/text. ‘Are you free for coffee?’ is a gentle reminder to them that you are in need of company. Although it is an effort to be proactive, it is preferable to spending too much time alone.

Keep a journal

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you to make sense of what has happened and work through your grief.

Listen to your body

If you need to cry, cry. If you need to sleep, sleep. If you need to talk to someone, then seek out someone who will listen; a family member, friend or bereavement support service.

Lower expectations for yourself

You can't expect yourself to run at full capacity. Don’t expect to perform as well as you did prior to your loss. You may find your ability to concentrate and focus is diminished for a time - writing a ‘to do’ list can be very helpful.

Take time

Many people who are bereaved find keeping themselves busy is helpful. However, keeping yourself too busy and not allowing yourself time to ‘feel your grief’ is a distraction from your grief and not helpful to it.

Do the familiar things you used to

When you feel up to it, engage in activities and hobbies to which you feel drawn. It could be visiting a place you haven't been to in a while, walks in nature, reading, crafts etc.

Pamper yourself

Treat yourself to a hairdressing appointment, a manicure, a massage or even a restful soak in the bath - nurture yourself.

Look after your health

If you exercised prior to your loss, try to maintain the same routine. Physical exercise can improve your mood and enhance the way you feel. Maintaining a healthy diet and resuming your usual sleeping pattern is essential for functioning as well as you can.  If you are having difficulty with either, visit your doctor.

Be aware of others' reactions

Many people will not know how to react appropriately to your grief. Some will be more comfortable than others in responding to you. Be aware that people have different ideas, not only about death but also about how bereaved individuals should behave. People may say things to you that can seem insensitive with the best of intentions, not meaning to cause you hurt.

If you need counselling, do get it

Get all the support you need. There are many bereavement support groups as well as specialist counsellors or spiritual advisors who specialise in bereavement support. Don't hesitate to contact a medical and or mental health specialist if you have feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts.

 If you are experiencing bereavement, or want to be there for someone who is, you can find more information and support here.