Supporting bereaved children & their families in Kent

Holding On Letting Go

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How to cope

Bereavement is a distressing but normal experience.

There are often few opportunities to learn about grieving – ‘how it feels’, ‘what are the right things to do’, ‘what is normal’ – or how to come to terms with a death. In spite of this, most people find a way through, face the death and deal with their grief.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve and many people share similar thoughts and feelings. There are many feelings which take a while to get through and which cannot be hurried.

There is no ‘standard’ way of grieving. Cultures, families and individuals have their own beliefs and rituals. However, they all share similar experiences.

We most often grieve for someone that we have known for some time. However, it is clear that people who have had stillbirths or miscarriages, or who have lost very young babies, grieve in the same way and need the same sort of care and consideration.

As a bereaved parent/carer you might feel:

Numb:
in the few hours or days following the death, you can feel stunned, as though you can’t believe it has actually happened.

Agitated:
After a few days the numbness usually wears off. You may feel anxious and agitated, searching for the person who has died. You want somehow to find them or a connection to them, even though you know you can’t. You may find it difficult to relax, concentrate or sleep properly. You may dream, see fleeting visions or hear the voice of the dead person.

Angry:
You can feel very angry – towards others, who you feel added to the pain or distress, or who you feel did not prevent the death, which did not do enough, or even towards the person who has died because they have gone. This will feel very real to you.

Guilty:
You may find yourself going over all the things you would have liked to have said or done. You may wonder if you could have prevented the death, even though death is usually beyond anyone’s control.
Relieved: You may feel relieved if the loss has been after a painful or distressing illness. This is not callous-it is common and understandable, we do not like to see people we care about in pain or distress.

Sad:
After the weeks of strong feelings, you may gradually become sad and withdrawn. You feel less agitated but experience more periods of feeling ‘down’ or depressed, which can last for some time. Some people need additional support and care during this time.

Reflective:
Other people may see you as spending a lot of time just sitting, doing nothing. In fact, you are thinking about the person who has died, maybe thinking about memories, some good and some less good and the loss of opportunities. Some people will choose to do this with the support of a counsellor or befriender. This is an essential part of grieving.

You are becoming whole again:
Although the sense of having lost a part of yourself never goes away entirely, after some time you can feel that you can manage the grief and begin to enjoy life again. As time passes, the intense pain of early bereavement fades, the sadness lifts and you start to think about other things and look towards a sense of future.

In our grief feelings of intimacy with a partner can be reduced or even lost. This is normal and as we work through our grief our feelings may return and we can learn to be intimate with others again. Above all, be gentle with yourself, you both deserve time for your grief.

What if I can’t come to terms with it?

You may have problems if you can’t grieve properly at the time of your loss because there is too much happening around you. Some people don’t appear to grieve at all and return quickly to their normal life but then, sometime later, may have unusual physical symptoms or feel depressed.

If you have had a stillbirth, miscarriage or abortion, other people may not understand why you feel so deeply about it. This can make you feel very alone and low.

You may start to grieve, but get stuck. The early sense of shock and disbelief goes on. Years may pass and still you find it hard to believe that someone has died.

You may find that you can’t think of anything else and focus on keeping everything the same as it was when the person was alive.

Occasionally, you may feel so low that you have thoughts of harming yourself and may even stop eating and drinking. This is a sign you need extra support.

Useful tips

  • Look after yourself
  • Do what you can, when you can and be gentle on yourself
  • Remember, it will take time and things won’t change immediately
  • Grief is painful and things can’t easily be “made better”
  • Talk to children about the death using words they understand. Try not to use euphemisms such as “gone to sleep” “lost” or “gone to be with the angels”
  • Allow time for questions when you feel able to respond to them
  • Answer questions simply and honestly – don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’
  • Don’t be afraid to show your feelings to your children – it lets them know it’s OK to have feelings as well
  • Try to find appropriate ways to keep your children involved and remembering including the planning and involvement in the funeral
  • Keep talking about the person who has died
  • Remember you are not alone
  • Inform the school about your child’s loss and encourage your child to return to school as soon as possible after the death as this helps maintain a normal routine
  • Trust your instinct as a parent and don’t be afraid to ask for support, there are organisations to help you – see our links page