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Bereavement


Finding help and support

A grieving woman in an officeThis section deals with the grieving process and how to find help.

Babies, children and young people

You can find information on supporting children and young people who are grieving in Telling Others About a Death.

Working through grief

Grief is a natural response to losing someone you love and cherish. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and everyone experiences it differently. The important thing is to allow yourself to grieve and mourn as much and as long as you need to. Although grieving is intensely painful, in time these feelings begin to change as we adapt to a different way of life. Grief can never be fixed, diminished or taken away. It becomes part of our life story, and shapes how we live the rest of our lives. 

More: Self-help strategies for bereaved people

While grief is a universal experience that everyone will encounter at some point in their lives, each person’s grief is unique to them and to each lost relationship.

There are some commonalities in the experience of grief, however:

Acute grief

Acute grief is the early response to loss that can be intense and all- encompassing. It can involve intense daily yearning to be reunited with the lost loved one, significant emotional pain, as well as a multitude of physical reactions that many may never have been felt before (e.g. heart palpitations, butterflies in the stomach, frequent yawning, dizziness/fogginess). The bereaved person may also experience a feeling of unreality, as well as distracting thoughts of the deceased, trouble focusing attention and forgetfulness. These are all normal adaptive reactions within the context of grief.

Integrated grief

The enduring residual form of grief in which the reality and meaning of the death are gradually understood and the bereaved is able to embark once again on pleasurable and satisfying relationships and activities. Integrated grief does not mean that individuals forget their loved one, miss them any less or stop feeling sadness when thinking about them. The loss becomes integrated into the autobiographical memory system, meaning that thoughts or memories of the deceased are no longer as preoccupying or disabling. The individual finds a way of staying connected to the deceased without their physical presence. Once an individual’s grief has become integrated they are more easily able to engage in other activities without grief constantly preoccupying their mind. However, there may be periods when the acute grief re-emerges, this is common and does not reflect a failure or malfunction of the grieving process. This can occur around the time of significant events, such as holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, another loss, or a particularly stressful time

Complicated grief

A lasting form of acute grief with complicating features that impede the restructuring process necessary for integrated grief.  The term "complicated" is used because grief is thought to be a natural healing process and, like the body's other healing processes, there can be complications that mean it is not completed as intended. Complicated grief is very similar to acute grief however it can go on for years without the intensity of the experience decreasing.

If you feel you are experiencing complicated grief, then more specialist support may be necessary. Contact your GP and request treatment from a Clinical Psychologist with experience in complicated grief.

If you are finding it hard to cope with the loss of a loved one, do not suffer alone:  Finding professional support

Not everyone experiences grief when someone dies

For some people the death of a close friend or relative is a relief, especially if the person has suffered or had a drawn-out death. So never assume how someone is feeling.

  • First of all, check with the person. Ask them how they are about the death of their relative or friend. This allows the person to tell you how they are grieving, or whether they are okay with it.
  • You may not feel comfortable with their response, but it’s important to let the person have their experience.

Knowing how they are can help to open up more honest conversations.

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