Help & advice
How to help cope with bereavement
4 min | 22 May 2023
Once the funeral is over and the guests have left, you may find that the support drops away too, and it seems as though you are expected to get back to normal, going back to work or diving back into the daily family routine. All too often, there is little time and space to grieve.
Death can be hard to talk about and almost impossible to prepare for. It may be that in previous centuries, with our extended families, we were exposed to death more as children so that when we faced it as adults, we were in some way prepared. But if you are one half of a couple, perhaps with adult children who live far away, things can be very different when you lose your partner.
You are likely to be overwhelmed, feeling shock, numbness and even anger, says Sue Ryder, the palliative, neurological and bereavement support charity. There may be a sense of relief if the person was suffering, or there may be conflicting feelings about a difficult relationship. You may suffer physical symptoms, such as the inability to sleep. It’s important to take one day at a time, recognise and take time to feel your emotions, consider joining a support group, try to get out of the house, and ask for help from family and friends.
Funeral customs differ across the world
Some cultures have strong customs around death, that provide comfort to the bereaved. In the Sikh religion, for example, most people are cremated as soon as possible after death, with friends and relatives preparing the body. Attendees cover the hair of the deceased, and include sacred objects with the body. Hindu people will normally be cremated within 24 hours and sacred objects kept with them. In contrast, Swedes often bury their dead one to three weeks after death, keeping the body in a "special place" before then.
Judaism calls for the lighting of candles next to the body, which is never left alone until burial, as a sign of respect. After the funeral, a seven-day period of mourning known as shiva takes place in the deceased’s home, attended by close relatives.
Reading about grief can help
Your experience of grief will be influenced by your own culture and your own beliefs. Reading can be helpful too, whether the genre is biography, psychology, self-help or fiction. The bereavement support charity Cruse recommends ten books (Opens in new window) about grief and loss. These include 'Thinking Out Loud: Love, Grief and Being Mum and Dad' by footballer Rio Ferdinand, who lost his wife, Rebecca, to cancer, and Sue Morris's 'An Introduction to Coping with Grief', a self-help book that includes questions and exercises based on cognitive behavioural therapy to help manage your grief and track your progress.
There will be a pile of administrative tasks that face you, including the will, dealing with the estate and possibly clearing and selling property. You may find that once you have dealt with it all, that is when you will need the most support, as life begins to return to what looks like normal, but waves of grief are still hitting you. However, there is a good chance your friends and family may not realise this. Mind, the mental health charity, has useful advice (Opens in new window) for those who find it difficult to know how to respond.
There are many ways of coping with grief, but in a sense, it is never really over. In my experience, it eventually becomes smaller within a life that has become bigger. In the meantime, remember to ask for help if you need it.
Mind signposts support for different kinds of bereavement:
- Cruse Bereavement Care (Opens in new window) – offers face-to-face, telephone, email and online support for anyone who has experienced a loss.
- Child Bereavement UK (Opens in new window) – provides support for anyone who has lost a child and for children themselves who are bereaved.
- Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (Opens in new window) (SANDS) – provides information and support for anybody affected by the death of a baby.
- The Compassionate Friends (Opens in new window) – offers a range of services supporting bereaved parents and their families.
- WAY Widowed and Young (Opens in new window) – offers a peer support network for people who've lost their partner before their 51st birthday.