Losing a loved one – how to cope

Here we explore feelings of grief at this difficult time in our lives and look at practical ways of coping

Losing a loved one is always hard and everyone deals with their emotions in different ways.  Some seem to deal with their grief within a matter of months whereas others may take many years to come to terms with their loss.

As everyone copes in different ways then immediate emotions will vary.  Some may feel numb or just unable to process what has happened and this feeling can be magnified by the inability to talk about the loss.  Those who experience this kind of grief may even be able to carry on as if nothing has changed, almost as if they are in denial that anything major has happened.

Others, may feel angry or guilty.  Not accepting that they are the one left behind or asking themselves why it has happened to them.  Feeling guilty about not having had the chance to say goodbye properly and knowing that it’s too late to put right any issues with loved ones now is also a perfectly normal way of reacting to loss.

Emotional response to loss

The following emotions are not unusual to experience during the grieving process:  mood swings, anxiety, restlessness, constant tearfulness or intermittent crying, low mood or even mild depression.

Some may find comfort from relatives and friends whereas others may choose to distance themselves from friends and family.

Emotions such as these may disturb sleep patterns, affect levels of concentration and appetite.  Trying to adjust to the loss of a loved one alongside the normal activities of daily living can be very difficult.

These emotional, physical and mental responses should lessen and in time things should settle down and a normal pattern of living should follow, but it is important to recognise that if these responses don’t appear to be getting any easier to manage then it may be the time to ask for help from your GP or through bereavement support or counselling.

It is good to talk

It is extremely beneficial to talk and share your feelings but only when you feel able to do so.  Many find it easier to talk to someone outside of their immediate circle who are not affected by the loss but others opt to speak with family and friends.  Choose whoever you feel most comfortable opening up to.

There are charities that will send trained bereavement volunteers to your home where you can talk your feelings through on a one-to-one basis.  There are also organisations that run helplines which you can use if you just feel the need to talk with someone over the phone.

Alternatively, you can choose to speak with your GP who may then be able to refer you to a bereavement counsellor if they feel that is appropriate for you.

It is normal to feel sad

Feeling sad is part of the grieving process and allowing yourself to cry is a way of relieving tension.  This is perfectly normal and you should give yourself time to grieve this way.

Have a daily routine

Most of us need stability when someone close has passed away as it is all too easy to feel out of control, so a simple daily routine will help you feel safer and calmer.  It may be a good idea to see someone else at least once a week as this will help you to get back on track sooner.

Allow yourself a break

Guilty feelings can be overwhelming if you laugh or smile when you’re grieving but it is important for you to give your body a break.  It is normal to feel sad but these strong emotions are strength-sapping so watching TV or reading a book will allow you to rebuild some strength for the times when you will be feeling intensely emotional.

A good night’s sleep

As a huge amount of energy is used up with the intense emotions of grieving a good night’s sleep is what the body needs.  But, if you do find you have problems sleeping then it is important to see your GP as they may prescribe a short course of sleeping tablets, just to help you get back to a normal sleeping pattern.

Remember to eat

When you’re feeling emotional it is hard to find enthusiasm to do much let along cook but it is extremely important to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet as you will need your strength, more so than ever.

Socialise but go alcohol free

It is very tempting to turn to alcohol when you are in a crisis.  This is never a good answer and will not help in the long term but as you start to feel a little stronger you may wish to start seeing people again.  It is extremely beneficial to socialise, it re-builds connections in the brain and helps with the grieving process.

Drop-in clinics or friendship groups where people who are going through bereavement can meet are run by bereavement organisations such as Cruse.  These groups enable people to share experiences and offer each other support.

Returning to a previous interest or starting a new hobby may also help to focus, alternatively if you have free time then volunteering could be another way of meeting people.

Never forget

Some people find it beneficial to create a memory box as a way of remembering the person they have lost.  Items such as photographs, jewellery, an item of clothing, cards they may have received or sent, a favourite book, anything in fact that brings back a happy memory can be kept inside.  The box can then be brought out whenever you feel the need and it can also be used to share your memories of your loved one with others such as children or grandchildren.


There will inevitably be changes in your life when you lose someone close.  Alongside the process of grieving there may be additional responsibilities such as managing finances or supporting other family members that you will have to deal with.  This may be in addition to the normal running of your day to day life.

These extra responsibilities can be hard to bear at first so it is important to be kind to yourself, give yourself time and remember that you are not alone.  In time things will get easier to cope with and you will be able to find the strength to adjust.

Here are a few websites that you may find useful to help you on your journey of recovery.

CRUSE – Bereavement Care
National Helpline: 0844 477 9400

Pilgrims Hospice Bereavement Support and Counselling Services

NHS Choices

Way Foundation – Support for Widowed Men and Women under 50
Helpline: 0300 012 4929

National Association of Widows
Helpline: 02476 634848

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