Bereavement Counselling

Steps to recovery

What to expect

When you lose someone you love, you may have many different feelings, even when the death is expected. Some of the things you may feel include:

  • numbness
  • shock
  • disbelief
  • fear
  • anger
  • guilt
  • stress
  • physical illness
  • relief
  • depression
  • soul-searching
  • sadness

It is common to feel numb at first; but everyone is different, and there is no ‘right order’ or pattern to the emotions people experience when they are bereaved.

You could feel all of these things – or none of them. You may be shocked by the intensity and duration of your feelings, or how quickly your moods swing from one feeling to another. You may even begin to doubt your sanity. However, these feelings are usually healthy and appropriate and, in time, will help you to come to terms with and make sense of your loss.

How to handle the feelings

The feelings you have when you lose someone are an expression of your loss. It is very important to allow yourself to have these feelings. Death is often avoided, ignored or denied. It may seem helpful to detach yourself from the pain at first and sometimes this can help you to deal with the practical arrangements that have to be made when someone dies. However, you cannot avoid the pain forever. Some day those feelings will need to be felt, or they may cause physical or emotional illness.

Physical symptoms of bereavement

Many people who have been bereaved develop physical symptoms. Stomach pain, loss of appetite, intestinal upsets, sleep disturbances and loss of energy are all common symptoms of acute grief. Of all life’s stresses, bereavement can seriously test your body’s natural defence systems. Existing illnesses may worsen or new conditions may develop. It’s important to check with your doctor if you feel ill in any way.

Profound distress

You may find yourself experiencing profound emotional reactions to your loss. These reactions may include anxiety attacks, chronic fatigue, depression and thoughts of suicide. If you are worried about your mental health we advise you to contact us or speak to your doctor.

Seven steps to recovery

It can be hard to think well about how to look after yourself when you are bereaved. Here we offer some steps you could take to help you along the way.

  • Find people who will listen. Talk to relatives or friends who can understand your loss or share your thoughts and feelings with others who are experiencing a similar loss. You may wish to speak to one of our counsellors at Southwark Bereavement Care.
  • Express your feelings. Tell others how you are feeling; it will help you to get through the bereavement.
  • Take care of your health. Keep in regular contact with your doctor and be sure to eat well and get plenty of rest. Be aware of the danger of developing a dependence on medication or alcohol to deal with your grief.
  • Accept that life is for the living. It may take some effort to begin to live again and not dwell on the past.
  • Hold off making any major life changes, such as moving, finding another partner, changing jobs or having another child. You need to give yourself time to adjust to your loss.
  • Remember that recovery takes time. It can take months or even years to deal with a major loss and accept that your life has changed.
  • Seek outside help when you need it. If your pain feels like it is too much to bear, do contact us. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to ask for help.

Helping others through a bereavement

If someone you care about has lost someone they love, you can help them through their bereavement. Here are some ideas that you may find useful.

Share the sadness. Allow them – even encourage them – to talk about their feelings of loss and share memories of the person who has died.

Don’t offer false comfort. It doesn’t help the grieving person if someone says: ‘It was for the best’ or ‘You’ll get over it in time’. Instead, offer a simple expression of concern and take time to listen.

Offer practical help. Baby-sitting, cooking and running errands are all ways to help someone who is in the middle of bereavement.

Remember that it can take a long time to recover from a major loss. Make yourself available to talk and, more importantly, to listen.

Encourage outside help when necessary. Don’t hesitate to recommend us if you feel someone is experiencing too much pain to cope alone.

Helping children recover from loss

Children who experience a major loss may grieve differently to adults. A parent’s death can be particularly difficult for small children, affecting their sense of security or survival. Often, they are confused about the changes they see taking place around them, particularly if well-meaning adults try to protect them from the truth or from their surviving parent’s display of grief.

Limited understanding and an inability to express feelings puts very young children at a special disadvantage. Young children may go back to earlier
behaviours (such as bed-wetting), ask questions about the person who has died that seem insensitive, invent games about dying or pretend that the death never happened.

Coping with a child’s grief puts added strain on a bereaved parent. However, angry outbursts or criticism only deepen a child’s anxiety and delay recovery. Instead, talk honestly with children, in words they can understand. Take extra time to talk with them about death and about the person who has died. Help them work through their feelings and remember that they are looking to adults for suitable ways to cope.

If you think you could benefit from outside help with a child why not contact us? See below for ways to get in touch.

Getting in touch

Why not contact us using our online form (link to referral page), or e-mail us  , or call us on 020 7708 4497 and talk to one of our staff. Our service is free and everything you say to us is confidential.

Remember – you don’t have to work it out on your own. We are here to help.

Find us

Southwark Carers
3rd Floor, Walworth Methodist Church,
54 Camberwell Road, London, SE5 0EN
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Contact us

020 7708 4497

Find us

Nearest tube – Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).

Nearest Railway Station – Elephant & Castle

Buses from Elephant and Castle – ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45