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Death of a loved one

Death of a loved one

Everyday we hear about death – on the news, in the papers, and we all want to believe that it’ll never happen to us. Of course, most of us will experience the death of someone close sooner or later.

Each loss is a highly individual experience. There is no set timetable and no “right way” to grieve.

When we do lose someone significant, for most of us, bereavement will be the most psychologically distressing experience we will ever face. The death of a significant person is a devastating loss. Everyone experiences grief differently and there is no ‘normal’ way to grieve. How we react will be influenced by many different things, including our age and personality, or cultural background and religious beliefs, our previous experiences of bereavement, and our personal circumstances and our relationship with the person we have lost…

Some of the feelings we may experience?
Some people just cannot believe it happened’; others experience feeling nothing; While others seek justification of why did it have to happen?

It may take a long time to grasp what has happened. The shock can make us numb, and feel like we’re in a different world. Some people carry on as if nothing has happened. It is hard to believe that someone important is not coming back. Many feel disorientated and almost as if they have lost their place in life.

Physical and mental pain can feel completely overwhelming and very frightening. The pain of bereavement has been compared to that of losing a limb. It doesn’t come back, you will always miss it, but you also learn to adapt to living without it.

Sometimes bereaved people can feel angry. This anger is a completely normal part of the grieving process. Death can seem cruel and unfair, especially when you feel someone has died before their time or when you had plans for the future together

‘If only…We may feel guilty about things you said or did, or that we didn’t say or do.  It is important to remember, at the time, that we did not have the power of hindsight we possess after the event.

Life has no meaning, feeling I can’t go on.’  Many people say there are times after a death when they feel there is nothing worth living for and they feel like ending it all.

It is quite common for us to hear and see the loved one and worry that we are going mad.  Some bereaved people find themselves talking to the person who died , especially if they were an important part of their lives.

Other times our minds may temporarily ‘forget’ that they have died. And we will experience painful jolts of realization that seem hard to endure.

Some bereaved people find that they can’t stop thinking about the events leading up to the death and these run endlessly through their minds, being the first thing they think of when they wake up and the last thing they think of when they eventually fall asleep.  Sometimes the thoughts may intrude on their work making it impossible to concentrate.

  1. Although some books suggest that there are five stages to grief starting with  denial as a temporary defense for the individual that is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death. Denial can be conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or the reality of the situation. Denial is a defense mechanism and some people can become locked in this stage.
  2. Anger — “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”  Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Anger can manifest itself in different ways. People can be angry with themselves, or with others, and especially those who are close to them. It is important to remain detached and nonjudgmental when dealing with a person experiencing anger from grief.
  3. Bargaining — “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…”

The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time…” People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example “Can we still be friends?..” when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it’s a matter of life or death.

  1. Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
    During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed. Depression could be referred to as the dress rehearsal for the ‘aftermath’. It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. It’s natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage. Feeling those emotions shows that the person has begun to accept the situation.
  1. Acceptance — Many people find it takes much longer than they anticipated learning to cope without someone. When someone close to us dies we have to cope and adjust to living in a world which is totally changed. Death is, after all, inevitable: that person is not going to come back. We may have to let go of some dreams built up and shared with the person who has died.

… But these stages are just a guide – we are all capable of experiencing emotions almost simultaneously, that’s why lots of bereaved people feel angry and the next minute can’t stop crying’ and many people find the mood swings very frightening.

Other people’s reactions
One of the hardest things to face when we are bereaved is the way other people react to us. They often do not know what to say or how to respond to our loss. This is hard for us because we may well want to talk about the person who has died. It can become especially hard as time goes on and other people’s memories of the dead person fade.


Life will never be the same again after a bereavement, but the grief and pain should lessen and there will come a time when we are able to adapt and adjust, and cope with life without the person who has died.

Many people worry that they will forget the person who has died; how they looked, their voice, the good times they had together. There are so many ways you can keep their memory alive. These are just a few suggestions:

  • talk about them and your special memories
  • write down your memories
  • keep an album of photos
  • keep a collection of some of their special possessions
  • do something that commemorates them, such as planting a tree, paying for a park bench or making a donation to a charity

Many of us store unresolved experiences of loss and emotional wounds from the past. Sometimes our grief can be complicated by:

  • Our previous experience of loss
  • Not being able to say goodbye
  • The traumatic circumstances of our loved one’s death.

Grief that is unresolved, brushed over or unacknowledged can cause long lasting physical and emotional problems. The pain and trauma of loss has to be held somewhere and our bodies are very good at storing these experiences. Unresolved grief can present as physical symptoms such as:

  • fatigue,
  • insomnia,
  • loss of appetite,
  • palpitations,
  • stomach pains,
  • backache,
  • gastrointestinal symptoms such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
  • or emotional symptoms such as:
    • increased anxiety.
    • stress
    • panic attacks
    • depression

A crisis can bring people together and lead to new friendships, but it can create tensions and strains. Some families are able to support one another, to work through thoughts and feelings and talk through worries or fears about what loss means, to help each other to  deal with the bereavement but this not always possible and conflicts may emerge. Counselling offers many people the opportunity to work through the grieving process in a safe, supportive and healthy way. It is often easier to open up to someone who is not close to us personally.