Self-help strategies for bereaved people
When someone significant dies, our lives change in the blink of an eye, and we have no time to rehearse for the roles that are thrust upon us.
For the first few days or even weeks, we may be too preoccupied to think about the change in our circumstances and may be able to avoid looking at the new landscape that has opened up in front of us.
However, after the funeral ’ and everyone’s lives seem to go back to normal , we may be left wondering how we are going to survive.
There are no one size fits all solutions: everyone’s circumstances are different and each person grieves differently - however, there are some coping strategies that may be relevant to you and that you might find helpful:
Firstly, there is no reason for your relationship with the person who has died, to end. Death ends a life but it doesn’t end a relationship. If you are used to sharing your day with the person who has died, or emailing them your news, then perhaps continue to do this. Many people continue to have conversations with the person who has died and although this may sound strange, it is less unnatural than being expected to abruptly end the relationship. If you are not comfortable with apparently ‘talking to no one’ then write down what you want to say.
If you are religious, it is worth contacting your local church or place of religious denomination. Many have relevant weekly or monthly meetings and if you are not mobile they may be able to arrange for someone to bring you along or visit you in your own home. For some people, relying on family and friends is the best way to cope. But if you are not close to your family, or they are grieving too, you can contact local bereavement services through your GP, local hospice, or the national Cruse helpline (details at the bottom of this page).
Also, if you are not very mobile and feel isolated it is worth looking at voluntary organisations that offer a befriending service. Both Friends of the Elderly (FOTE) and Age UK (formerly Age Concern) have a nationwide telephone befriending service as well as a face-to-face visiting service depending on where you live (details at the bottom of the page). Both organisations also have helpful information about bereavement.
It is often thoughtlessness that causes people to forget to call rather than ill will and a call from you or a text or e mail to say ‘are you free for coffee’ is a gentle reminder to them that you are in need of company. Although it is an effort to be proactive it is preferable to spending too much time alone.
Perhaps suggest a meeting at your house for lunch or dinner and ask everyone to bring a dish so that you are not forced to do all the preparation at a time when your energy and motivation may be low.
If you are retired or have time on your hands, look at volunteering. Even if it’s just for a few hours a week to start with, it is an excellent way to meet new people in a very natural environment. Volunteering is proven to have enormous physiological benefits. Perhaps pop into a local charity shop and ask if they need any help.. The Volunteering England website link is below and it is a good place to start to look for opportunities in your neighbourhood.
If you are a dog lover consider contacting the Cinnamon Trust and see if there is anyone in your neighbourhood who is elderly or unwell and in need of someone to walk their dog. Conversely, of course, if you are not as mobile as you once were and have a dog perhaps contact the Cinnamon Trust and see if they have anyone who can help you out. Dogs and cats are wonderful companions but need care and attention themselves.
It is best not to make any significant decisions for twelve months. Decisions made during this time are rarely objective and balanced. If possible put on hold any decision that involves a large expenditure.
Abnormal behaviour is normal in an abnormal situation. This is something that is worth writing on a post-it note and placing somewhere so that it is rarely out of sight.
Whatever you are feeling or thinking is probably quite normal considering the unusual set of circumstances. Emotions or lack of emotions, sleeplessness, a constant sense of unreality, and of course a feeling of guilt, which never fails to raise its ugly head. Whatever your thoughts and feelings it is important to know that they are probably quite natural and not to be feared. If you are afraid of your thoughts don’t hesitate to get help from your doctor.
Samaritans are always on the end of the phone and are available to anyone who is in severe emotional distress. Cruse bereavement charity have trained volunteers who offer bereavement counselling, there may be a waiting list depending on your area so it is worth getting in touch with your local office sooner rather than later (details below).
Crying is the body’s very clever way of reducing stress and a very natural reaction. It doesn’t matter whether it is days, weeks, months or years after the death, if you feel like having a good cry don’t question it, just allow it. Your body is telling you that you need the release. Suppressing tears in the long term is not a healthy option. The same applies if you are supporting someone else in their grieving process: it is important to allow them to cry and not try and ‘cheer them up’.
Finally, know that you will not always feel as bad as you do now. Getting through each day after a death may feel like a challenge, but by focusing more and more on today and less on yesterday you will make progress. There will be good days and bad days but in time you will find that the good days outweigh the bad. The landscape of your life may have changed dramatically but the changes will slowly start to feel more familiar and one morning you will wake up with the knowledge that you are now able to see beyond tomorrow.
Judy Carole Kauffmann is the co-author of The Essential Guide to Life after Bereavement – Beyond Tomorrow (Jessica Kingsley 2013) and End of Life the Essential Guide to Caring (Hammersmith Press 2010). She is a bereavement counsellor and facilitates workshops on End of Life Care and Bereavement and Loss. ELManagement.org
Further support and information
Age UK friendship phone calls: 0800 434 6105 (Freephone)
Age UK National Information and advice line (including information for those bereaved and local information about volunteer visits): 0800 169 6565
Tel: 020 7881 1148 for information about services
Tel: 0844 477 9400.
The telephone helpline is open Monday and Friday 9.30-5pm,
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9.30-8pm.
Tel: 08457 90 90 90
24 hours a day every day.
By phone: Tel: 01736 757 900
Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm (in an emergency call any time)