Brits struggle to support bereaved people

10 December 2014
Almost half of Britons (47%) say they would feel uncomfortable talking to someone who has been recently bereaved, and many bereaved people have experienced negative reactions to their grief, including people avoiding them and the loss of friendships, according to a new study released by the Dying Matters Coalition.

Today’s ComRes research, released to coincide with the launch of ‘Being there’, a new Dying Matters campaign to support people with what to say and do after someone has been bereaved, including over the Christmas period, finds that talking about bereavement remains a taboo for many people in Britain.

I still remember people crossing the road rather than speak to meAlthough the majority of people surveyed (72%) knew someone who had been recently bereaved, one in four (26%) said they had not known what to say to them, and 40% only talked about what had happened if the person who had been bereaved mentioned it first. One in ten (9%) said they had avoided talking about the bereavement with them and 4% said they had deliberately avoided seeing them.

The survey also found that the vast majority (84%) of those who have been bereaved in the past five years thought that people in Britain are uncomfortable talking to those who have recently been bereaved. Of Britons who have been bereaved in the past five years:

  • A third (34%) said people changed the subject rather than talk about their loss.
  • One in four (26%) said people avoided talking to them after they were bereaved
  • One in four (25%) said not enough of their family, friends, neighbours or colleagues made themselves available to support them.
  • One in four (24%) experienced someone saying something insensitive about their loss.
  • One in ten (9%) lost a friend because of how they reacted to them following their bereavement.

The cover of Dying Matters new Being There leaflet Seven in ten of people (70%) who had been bereaved said talking about their loss helped them feel better – but one in five (21%) said they wanted to talk but could not find anyone to listen, and four in ten (43%) said that they tried not to talk about their loss as they didn’t want to upset anyone.

The findings come during the Christmas period, which can be an upsetting time for bereaved people. Almost half of those (45%) who have been bereaved in the past five years said that since somebody close to them died, Christmas has been a particularly difficult time of year. 

Speaking today, Claire Henry, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care, which leads the Dying Matters Coalition, said: “Many people who have lost a loved one not only have to deal with the bereavement itself but also with the reaction of others. Although it can be difficult to know what to say or do for the best when someone has been bereaved, being there to talk, listen and provide support can make a real difference. We’re therefore calling on people across the country to show bereaved people they care, especially during the Christmas and New Year period as we know that it can be an especially difficult time if you have been bereaved.”

Jane with her son Josh as a young boyJane Harris, whose son Joshua died in 2011 aged 22 (Jane is pictured with Josh when he was a child, left), added: “We discovered that whenever we talked about our son Josh to friends and family there were awkward silences and people just didn’t know what to say or do for the best or even avoided us altogether. The first Christmas after Josh’s death was particularly upsetting, especially when we received Christmas cards that didn’t even acknowledge his death. However, talking about our loss, remembering Josh’s life and being allowed to say his name really helped us, as did the kindness and support from those people who went the extra mile to be there for us.”

Debbie Kerslake, Chief Executive of Cruse Bereavement Care said: “The death of someone close can be devastating. But at a time when someone really needs the support of family, friends, neighbours and colleagues, too often it is lacking, not because people don’t care, but because they don’t know what to say or do. Every day Cruse Bereavement Care hears from bereaved people who feel hurt and let down by those they thought would be there for them. Cruse believes the ‘Being there’ Campaign is vital, raising awareness of the difficulties bereaved people face, encouraging everyone to be supportive and giving advice to those who want to ‘be there’ but don’t know how.” 

Dr Bee Wee, National Clinical Director for End of Life Care for NHS England, added: “We need to change our approach to bereavement, so that all of us become more comfortable talking about it and better able to support people after they have lost someone they care about. It’s heartbreaking to know that for many people the distress they experience after a bereavement is compounded by the reaction of other people, which is why I welcome and support the Dying Matters Coalition’s excellent new ‘Being there’ campaign.”

As part of its ‘Being there’ bereavement campaign Dying Matters has produced a new leaflet, also called ‘Being there’, which has suggestions of things to say and do – and not say and do – when someone has been bereaved, all of which are based on bereaved people’s own experiences.


Download Dying Matters' 'Being There' leaflet free: Download 'Being There'

Order hard copies of 'Being There': Order 'Being There'


ComRes: download the full Dying Matters report on British People's Attitude to Bereavement

Jane Harris, quoted in the above news story, runs a website, Beyond Goodbye, where family and friends can remember her son Josh and which also serves as a resource for bereaved people: Beyond Goodbye

The Compassionate Friends, the charity which supports parents following the death of a child of any age, has launched a guide to getting through Christmas when someone so important is missing: Coping with Christmas

Annie Broadbent is the author of new book 'We Need to Talk About Grief', which gives first-hand advice on supporting someone who is grieving: visit Annie's website

Kate Ibbeson has written a blog about feeling unsupported at Christmas following the deaths of her parents: Read Kate's blog

Cruse Bereavement Care offers a helpline for bereaved people all year round, including throughout the festive season: Cruse Bereavement Care

Silverline provides information, friendship and advice to older people who may feel alone; the free helpline is open throughout Christmas: Silverline

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