Self help in bereavement

When someone close to us dies, life can very quickly become profoundly different and very difficult. Initially, you may feel numbed by what has happened, or kept occupied by all the practicalities that have to be attended to. After a while, everyone else’s life can seem to return to normal and you may feel left behind, wondering how you can go on.

You may feel abnormal, but are more likely to be responding normally to an abnormal and unwelcome situation.  This website has many links to and information about relevant organisations and sources of support, including our own Bereavement Support Services. You may find our Information About Bereavement leaflet helpful.

For some people, meeting with others (individually or in a group) can be helpful, but because we are all different, others prefer to grieve more privately. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions but there are some coping strategies that may be relevant to you and that you might wish to try.

Express yourself

You might try talking to people you trust, but you can also express yourself in other ways. Even if you are not someone who writes a lot, keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings about your bereavement and how your life is changing expresses what you are living through. It can also help you maintain and develop a helpful and healing connection with the person who has died.

Allow yourself to feel what you feel

Grieving is rarely ‘neat and tidy’ and you may have unwelcome thoughts or feelings. Your grief may not be what you expected. Your feelings may change quickly and unexpectedly. Learning to accept and allow your experience to be what it is can be a helpful first response. Paradoxically, acceptance of how things are can become a first step in making helpful changes.

Keep up or develop a routine

When you grieve, life can feel like it has ‘lost its shape’. It can be hard to continue old routines when someone who was an important or even central part of them has died.

It can be helpful to consciously develop even very simple daily and weekly routines. 

Pay attention to your body

When feelings and thoughts are so powerful, it can be easy to overlook your body’s needs. Grieving makes great demands on your energy. You may find that life wearies you much more than before, so do all you can to eat a healthy diet and get plenty of rest.

Avoid things that 'numb the pain'

Alcohol and other ways to ‘numb the pain’ can be tempting, but try to avoid using them to excess. They may offer temporary relief, but things will feel no better after the effect wears off.

Attend to life's meaning

Your bereavement may have challenged your sense of life’s meaning, leaving you wondering what the purpose is. If you have a religious faith, it may be helpful to reflect on this with someone from your faith community. If you do not, there are other approaches, such as mindfulness meditation, to help explore life’s purpose.

Be patient with yourself, and others

Grieving takes time, sometimes much longer that we might imagine. So be patient with yourself, especially at times you are not ‘making progress’ in the way you expected.

Be aware that others, even those close to you (who may also be grieving), won’t necessarily understand in the way you would like them to. Even with best intentions they may sometimes say or do what for you is ‘the wrong thing’. Try to remember that things will take time, in different ways, for everybody.

Find ways to connect with the person who has died

When someone close to us dies, their place in our life must change, but it does not have to end. Try to find helpful ways of connecting with them. Sometimes having a particular routine or ritual can help you to reconnect with the person you loved. This does not need to be something you do on a particular date, but might be something you can do any time.  It could be something like visiting a special place, or going on a walk that you did together. Important dates, such as birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations, can be hard.  It helps if you can think beforehand about what you want and what will help you get through the day.  There is no right or wrong thing to do on these different occasions, you only need to do the things that are important to you and that help you to cope in the best way possible. 

Resources

There are numerous self-help books available now. Many are excellent, some are not, and of course what suits one person will not suit all. Look for self-help books that have been recommended to you by someone you trust, or endorsed by a reputable organisation or health professional. The same is true of websites.

Good places to start online might include Mindfulness and Grief, an organisation offering resources and links to help navigate the paths of grief. NHS Scotland also offers a variety of online support: ’Moodjuice’. from Forth Valley NHS, produces self-help guides, including one specifically about bereavement, which can be downloaded here.

A good book of self-help strategies in grief is Overcoming Grief - A Self-Help Guide (2012) by Sue Morris.