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Understanding grief and your feelings

This may be the first time someone in your life has died. And that can be hard, especially when you’re facing many other ups and downs.

If you’re an adult with a bereaved young person in your life, try to recognise their grief as individual. It can be tempting to encourage them to feel or think in a particular way, especially when you’re dealing with your own grief. You might also find this information sheet by Child Bereavement UK   (PDF) useful.

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What is grief?

Grief is the feelings and emotions you experience when someone dies. It’s normal to experience grief. But how it affects you and how long it lasts depends on many things including your personality, your family background, how the person died and your previous experience of death. Your relationship with the person will also have an effect, depending on how close you were.

Allowing yourself to grieve can be very helpful, whether it’s having a good cry or talking about the person who died. There are no short cuts, and no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to feel, think or behave. If you have brothers and sisters, they may cope differently to you. Don’t worry, this is fine. Everyone has their own way of coping, but some ways can be less helpful in the long run.

Words you may hear

  • ‘Bereavement’ – the experience of losing someone close.
  • ‘Grief’ – the feelings and emotions you experience when someone dies.
  • ‘Mourning’ – the outward display of feelings and emotions.

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Your feelings and thoughts

Grief affects us all differently. At first you may feel your world has been shattered ‒ things you do, people you see and places you go may seem strange and unfamiliar. Little things may remind you of the person who died and it can be hard to think about anything else. Some young people have said they feel a loss of control, which can be frightening, although it’s very common.

If you’re worried about how you feel or if your feelings become overwhelming it can help to share them.

Here are some other feelings and thoughts you may experience.

‘Why me? It’s not fair’

Anger and a sense of injustice are common when someone dies. You may ask yourself, ‘Why has this happened to me?’ or feel rage against the world or even the person who’s died. Or you might feel angry at no one in particular.

How to cope: Anger is fine as long as you don’t harm yourself or others. You could try throwing ice cubes at a wall or tree, or screaming into or punching a pillow. Sport and other physical activity can help, too.

‘I feel so sad’

Although sadness is the emotion most associated with grief, you might not always recognise it. It can take many forms. You may feel that something is missing from your life or you may dwell on the past and worry about the future.

How to cope: Talking to someone can help. Writing your feelings down or creating an online tribute on a site like Much Loved   may be useful too.

Tears and crying

You may find it hard to let the tears out or feel uncomfortable crying in front of others, even though it’s a perfectly normal reaction. You may also worry about making the people around you sad.

How to cope: Having a good cry can make you feel much better. No one will think the worse of you for crying in front of them, if you feel like it. It’s not a sign of weakness.

‘I’m all alone – no one understands’

The death of someone you love can make you feel isolated. Even talking to friends may be hard. It might seem as though they cannot or don’t want to understand your feelings. Or you might want to be by yourself, and/or resent others trying to contact you.

How to cope: Being alone is fine, but you can find someone to talk to if it’s making you unhappy. Finding the words can be hard and not everyone will understand. But you might be surprised at how many people care and want to help. Even if they don’t always know how.

‘It’s kind of a relief’

It’s not unusual to feel relief when someone dies. It can be hard to be around someone you care for when they’re very ill, especially if they were unwell for a long time or suffering. Perhaps you didn’t always get on.

How to cope: Try to accept relief as a normal emotion. It doesn’t make you heartless or uncaring.

‘I wish I’d…’

Regret is common when someone dies but it can be extremely disturbing. You may worry about things you said or did – or left unsaid or done – or blame yourself for not being kinder to the person who died.

How to cope: Accept that regrets are natural. Try to be kind to yourself and remember that no one’s perfect.

‘What’s the point of life?’

The death of a loved one can lead you to question your beliefs and views. As you try to understand what’s happened you may start to behave in harmful ways – for example drinking, taking drugs, self-harming or driving dangerously.

How to cope: Although this is common and understandable, it’s vital to keep yourself safe. If you’re tempted to act out of control, there are people who can help you to find other ways of coping. Papyrus   has a free and confidential helpline for young people who are thinking about harming themselves. You can also call ChildLine   or Samaritans   to talk about anything that’s troubling you.

‘I don’t feel anything’

You may not feel anything at all when someone dies, especially in the early days. You may find it hard to believe and accept what’s happened. Or you might not be able to work out what you’re feeling at all – there could be lots of different thoughts and emotions mixed up together.

How to cope: Although this can be confusing, this is normal and usually passes. If it persists, it could be a good idea to speak to a professional who can help you get in touch with your underlying feelings. The Child Bereavement Charity, Cruse Bereavement Care, or Grief Encounter can all help – details below.

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External websites

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