How bereavement can affect you

For many, bereavement is one of the hardest things to go through. Whether you've lost someone to a stroke suddenly or over time, death as a result of stroke can be very difficult to cope with. Losing a loved one as a result of stroke affects people in a different ways and can cause an array of different emotions.

Many people experience intense feelings of sorrow and loss following the death of a someone close to them. However the mourning process may also involve other feelings such as anger, numbness, depression, guilt or even relief. These feelings may also, at times, be overwhelming.

It is not uncommon to experience a sort of numbness after the death of somebody close. It may be that this enables you to carry on with the practical side of everyday life and to make necessary funeral arrangements. If you are someone that cares for other people it is possible that this numbness allows you to continue to fulfil your practical duties.

You may also experience physical reactions such as loss of appetite or changes in sleep patterns. Chest tightness, fatigue and having trouble concentrating may also be due to emotional strain. You should visit your GP if you have these symptoms, as they may be signs of a physical illness.

Understanding the grieving process

Your experience of grief will be completely unique to you. Our rituals around grief differ between communities and cultures. However there are some thoughts and feelings that have been identified as common in any experience of grief – not just after a death. These do not necessarily occur in a particular order. They may overlap and you may not experience any or all of them. 

The feelings you have while grieving may include:

  • Denial - You may feel unable to accept that a death (or impending death) has occurred (or will occur). This denial may be subconscious or it may be a conscious choice. It may last for a very short time – a few minutes or hours – or it may persist for much longer. 
  • Anger- Feelings of anger and bitterness are common. Anger can be felt towards any number of people or circumstances. For example, you may feel angry with the deceased person who you feel has left you. This can lead to feelings of guilt. You may also feel angry with doctors or other medical staff for not doing enough, or relatives and friends who remain distant. 
  • Bargaining - This may occur when a person or somebody close to them has a life threatening illness, or after a loved one has died. If the person has religious or spiritual faith, they may attempt to make a deal with their god or higher power, in order to preserve themselves or their loved one from death. 
  • Depression - This is common and may involve many different symptoms including prolonged feelings of anxiety, tearfulness, hopelessness, lack of sleep or disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, loss of interest in everyday activities or difficulty concentrating or making decisions. 
  • Acceptance - You may experience difficult emotions involving sorrow, anxiety, fear, regret or guilt. You may begin to move towards recognising that life will never be as it was, and that you have to go on without the presence of your loved one. Acceptance begins when the bereaved person is able to accept that the deceased person is not coming back. 

It is normal to experience a continuing connection with the person who has died and for this to change over time. You may feel that your connection to your loved one is diminished, but will never go entirely. For some people this period may coincide with a re-evaluation of their own identity or situation, and sometimes results in people making changes in their own life.

There is no set period of time for grieving. Some people may feel they have become ‘stuck’ on a particular stage of grief. For instance, you may feel that you are not able to connect with feelings and a sense of numbness and disbelief just goes on and on. This may be normal for you and is probably not harmful. However some people, who have not had an opportunity to grieve, may find that they experience physical symptoms or periods of depression in the years following a loss. It may help to seek professional support if you are affected in this way.

Carers and bereavement

Many carers find that their caring role is the focus of their daily life. If you have been a carer and devoted your energies to a loved one over many years, you may also have become increasingly isolated, losing touch with your own friends or interests.

The loss for you as a carer may lead to very mixed and conflicting emotions. Feelings of grief and sadness may be combined with guilt or relief. As well as trying to cope with the loss of a loved one, you also face life without your role as a carer, with contacts or networks built up as part of your caring role also coming to an end. 

A carer’s bereavement may also result in significant practical and financial changes too. Carer support organisations can provide advice and support on the emotional and practical aspects of loss.

Children and bereavement

Children experience the pain of grief like adults, but they may have difficulty understanding or expressing their feelings. Their distress can come out in different ways such as troubled sleep, problems at school or anger and acting-out behaviour. Children often move quite quickly between extremes of emotion, one moment being very upset, the next playing. It is common for younger children to think that a death was their fault in some way, and they may need reassurance.

The best way to understand what children are thinking and feeling is to listen to them carefully. Try to include them in discussions about the person who has died. For example, talk to them about funeral preparations. Trust your instincts as a parent. Remember, it’s OK for you and your children to feel sad, angry and confused, as well as all the other emotions that you experience.

Child Bereavement UK can offer you further information and advice about child bereaavement. 

Supporting someone who is going through bereavement

Bereavement can be very isolating because other people, even those close to the bereaved person, may feel awkward or afraid of saying the ‘wrong’ thing.

A person will almost certainly appreciate it if you acknowledge their loss, even if you don’t know what to say. Some people want company. They may want to talk about how they feel and about the deceased person. Others may prefer some time alone, while knowing that people are there for them. People have different needs, and it is important to let them decide what support they want. Practical help like shopping, cooking, and childcare may be greatly appreciated. 

Professional help

You may welcome professional support in coping with grief, either emotionally or with the physical effects, such as lack of sleep. It may help to talk to your doctor. They can give you a general health check-up, prescribe medication, such as anti-depressants or sleeping tablets, and refer you for counselling.

Counselling may also be available through your place of work, university, college or school, some charities and privately. A counsellor can offer you a safe and confidential space to talk through what you are experiencing, without worrying that you are burdening or upsetting people. Counselling is available one-to-one or in groups for children and families too.

You can find support from the Stroke Association by speaking to the Stroke Helpline. There are also many bereavement charities which can offer you help and support, such as Cruse Bereavement Care. 

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