Emotional responses to death
You may experience a flood of different emotions following the loss of a loved one. Some of these emotions may surprise you. You may experience an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness; you may feel a sense of relief or joy; you may also feel anger or guilt. You may feel some of these emotions at different times within a short period. Your emotional response depends entirely on you as a person. There is no right or wrong way to feel.
The first thing to remember is that there is no rush. You can do things at a pace that suits you. It is okay to embrace, kiss, hold hands and talk to your relative. You may want to ask someone else to do the ‘phoning around’ to inform close relatives/friends if this is easier for you. Depending on your circumstances and beliefs, you may also like to call your minister, priest or other religious representative.
You may experience physical symptoms such as shivering, shaking, trembling, feeling hot or cold, or both – this is quite normal. Or, you may remain calm and experience no symptoms. Be alert to these feelings and recognise they are a normal part of grieving; especially after caring for someone.
The time between the death and the funeral may be very busy. At the funeral you may feel all kinds of emotions: disbelief, relief, joy, sadness, you may also feel overwhelmed. You may experience headaches, tiredness or feeling a little ill. Following the funeral some people report feeling ‘lost’. Grief is a complex process and experiencing feelings like these is normal. There is no right or wrong way to feel and no normal time frames. Your responses and emotions depend on you as a person and your relationship to your relative.
Grief can begin well before death, e.g. at the time of diagnosis, or when your relative was referred for palliative care. Some people gain support from religion, friends and family or professional bereavement counsellors. Your GP surgery or local health care centre should be able to advise you of bereavement services in your area.
Remember - there is no set period of time for bereavement. Some people move on quite quickly while others take longer. All reactions are personal and no one can tell you how you should be feeling. Remember, your feelings are yours – there are no right or wrong feelings and your emotions may change frequently! You may also be getting used to a new environment. Those intense aspects of caring will have ceased. You may have to reconnect with old friends or relatives or make new friends. Once again, you do not have go through this adjustment on your own.
The bereavement experience will vary in intensity from person to person. However, if your feelings are worrying you then you should talk to your GP, or seek advice from a bereavement counsellor.
The Palliative Hub - Adult contains a list of organisations aimed at helping people who are bereaved