The emotional effects of grief after bereavement

In this grief guide

Emotional effects

Grief is a natural reaction to significant loss such as the death of a loved one. It’s an individual experience which is defined by your relationship with the deceased person and the circumstances of their death. Although most bereaved people are likely to experience similar emotional effects of grief, their order and length depend on individual circumstances and the person’s abilities to cope. 

You are likely to go through contradicting feelings and emotions which can often leave you confused. You need to remind yourself that these are normal reactions to your loss and that they get better with time. 

Other symptoms, such as the denial and refusing to believe what’s happened, are coping mechanisms. They take away some of the stress and trauma which derive from your loss and allow you to put your energy towards the things you need to do, i.e. registering the Death, finding a Funeral Director, dealing with utilities companies and banks etc. 

Under the circumstances, you may be tempted to put on a brave face and suffer in silence but bottling things up is likely to cause complications in the long run. It’s important to address your emotions and seek help when you need it. 

The following are some of the most common emotional effects of grief and bereavement: 

Initial shock 

The death of a loved one comes as a shock even in the cases when it was expected. This is often followed by disbelief and a slight disconnection from reality. The initial shock, like most other grief symptoms, fades away but if it persists, you need to talk to someone who is qualified to help. 

Panic and anxiety 

Your loss can provoke a variety of feelings and emotions which can be quite intense and overwhelming, particularly in the early stages. It’s likely to raise questions about your own mortality as well as that of others. It can also be a trigger for some of your fears and make you feel anxious. If these feelings don’t improve with time, you need to make an appointment to see your GP. 

Anger 

The realisation of your loss and its impact can bring a wave of anger. You may notice that you are easily irritated and angry with yourself or with people who you think are to blame for your loss. You may even be angry with the deceased person. 

Although it can create tension and affect the balance of your relationships with family members or friends, the anger is a normal and temporary reaction to your loss. However, if it doesn’t improve with time or you feel like you are a danger to yourself and others, you need to seek help. 

Guilt 

The loss of a loved one can make you feel guilty. It could be because you are the one who is left to live rather than your loved one or because you think you didn’t do enough to prevent their death. Although the feelings of guilt, much like the rest of the grief effects and symptoms are individual and circumstantial, they are a normal reaction to loss. 

It helps if you think about the good things you have done for the deceased person or seek support and reassurance from family members and friends. 

Sadness 

The sorrow and sadness go hand in hand and they are among the most common emotional effects of grief associated with the loss of a loved one. Although they don’t always become apparent straight away, you are likely to feel them as soon as you begin to acknowledge your loss and its impact. That’s when you begin to think about the deceased person and how much you miss them. These feelings and thoughts are quite normal at this stage. 

You may be tempted to isolate yourself but you need to make an effort to resist that urge and maintain contact with others. It can be helpful if you talk about your loss and feelings with people you trust. 

If you are not comfortable doing this, you can join a local or an online grief group. 

Staying Strong 

If your circumstances are such that require you to put your grief to one side and stay strong for other family members, please remember to find time to address your bereavement. 

Talking to your children, parents or other family members who may depend on you or rely on your support can be beneficial to them too. These types of conversations also help to clear out any misunderstandings and assumptions made by you or them. If you are not ready for that, then consider joining a support group or seeing a grief counsellor. 

You can find more information and contact details of bereavement organisations in the Help and Support section o the website.

We offer more information about different types of grief and loss in the Resources section of the website. 

Which emotional effects of grief have you experienced?

Help us keep this grief resource complete and up to date. Share your thoughts and advice in the comments sections below so that newly bereaved readers can benefit from your experience.

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