Churchill magazine

Coping with death and grief – The bereavement process explained

Updated on: 15 September 2020

A supportive hand for someone dealing with grief.

As much as we don’t like to think about it, death is a part of life. While it’s not a nice thought, there’s nothing we can do to stop those we love from passing away when the time comes. It’s understandable to feel sad and even helpless when this happens, but the pain will become easier to cope with over time.


Common feelings after a death

People go through various stages of grief when they're coming to terms with a death.

We used to understand these in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Understanding the common stages of grief can help a person be better prepared, but everyone grieves differently. There's no right or wrong amount of time to be upset about losing someone, so let things progress naturally.

More recently, these five stages have been questioned. They were originally seen in people with terminal illnesses coming to terms with their own death, , not by those who’ve lost someone close to them.

When you're dealing with the loss of someone close to you, it doesn't always feel like you're going through stages. It's more complicated than that and it can be frustrating if someone tells you you're stuck in a certain stage of grief.

Don't expect your grief to follow a predictable pattern. It's natural to feel like you're making progress one day, and have a set back the next. You'll experience a whole range of emotions and feelings, even beyond those described in the five stages.

The biological process of grief

Your body responds when you’re grieving. Once grief has triggered a response, you’re likely to experience a number of side effects, including:

If you lose someone close to you, be prepared for short-term changes to your health. It’s normal to feel the effects on your body. Staying active and eating well can help.

Daily life when you’re grieving

How to maintain your regular lifestyle

The impact a death will have on your life is significant. But there are ways to cope with a loss, including:

  • Create a routine. Having a routine in place can help keep you balanced. A structure will give you a solid foundation to rebuild from, at a time when you’re struggling to find your feet.

  • Talk to loved ones. Open up to the people closest to you. You’ll be sharing a lot of the same feelings and talking about them is an important part of grieving.

  • Encourage yourself to participate. It’s natural to withdraw from life when you’re under stress. If you find yourself feeling this way, take small steps to do the things that usually make you happy.

Helping children cope with a death

The loss of a loved one can be especially hard on children, because it’s probably the first time they’ve experienced these feelings. You’ll play a large part in helping them deal with their grief.

  • Use clear and honest words. Be as clear as possible when speaking to a child. They’re probably struggling to understand what’s happening, so being open will help them process what’s going on.

  • Listen to their concerns and questions. Make sure you answer any questions they have, and let the child know it’s perfectly normal to feel the way they do.

  • Explain funerals. There’s a good chance a child won’t know what a funeral is. If you want them to go, give them a description of why it happens, and what to expect on the day.

  • Help them remember the person. Talking about memories of a lost loved one can be helpful to children. This positive energy is therapeutic and may help them battle through the worst of what they’re experiencing.

  • Do things to keep their minds active. Keep a child happy and distracted with activities such as family days out. Sitting inside for too long won’t help anyone.

Helping adults around you to grieve

It’s not only children who grieve. You might want to help a partner, friend or family member who’s experiencing this kind of pain. Some of the best methods include:

  • Listening to them. Don’t presume the grieving person would want to be treated the same way you would. Just having someone to listen to them can help. You don’t always have to give advice or have a solution.

  • Talk about the person who’s passed. Sometimes people feel as though mentioning the deceased will be upsetting. But somebody who’s grieving might want to talk about their loved one, so give them time to bring it up.

  • Reaching out. Don’t wait for someone to ask you for help. While you don’t want to be pushy, it’s nice to make sure a person knows you’re there if needed.

  • Point them towards professional help. If they’re struggling to come to terms with their loss, you can suggest they seek professional help.

Getting help with grief

Finding the support and care you need at this distressing time can make a huge difference.

Getting emotional support from those around you

During difficult times, we rely on those closest to us for support. But we’ve got to want their help, so bear in mind these points:

  • Share your issues. Make sure people around you know if you’re struggling. There’s a better chance they’ll be able to help if they know what’s up.

  • Say yes to help. If someone reaches out to offer you advice, be open to their support. A heart-to-heart can make a difference. It’s worth getting a range of support too, from friends and professionals.

It can be uncomfortable to open up about your issues, but it’s important to separate yourself from those doubts to get the help you need.

Taking steps to help with your own emotional health

Looking after your emotional health and well-being is always important, especially when you’re suffering a loss.

  • Stay physically active. Exercising has been shown to have a positive impact on not only your body, but also your mind. Depression and anxiety can improve when you’re active.

  • Take up a hobby. Take your mind off what’s troubling you by enjoying a hobby of your choice. It’s important to do things you enjoy, and not feel guilty about having a good time.

  • Get enough sleep.

     A lack of sleep can make things worse. Try to start relaxing before it’s time to go to bed

Support lines and communities

If you find yourself struggling, and feel like you can’t turn to anyone, there are support helplines to guide you.

You’ll be speaking to trained professionals, with experience of helping people who are grieving. Just some of the incredible services available include:

  • SupportLine. Provides phone counselling to help people with a wide variety of problems, including bereavement.

  • Bereavement Trust. Focused around helping those who are experiencing grief. A team of volunteers work round the clock to make sure people can get the help and support they need.

  • NHS. If you’re ever feeling dangerously low, the NHS offers a suicide hotline. Always get the support you need.

Whether it’s from your friends, family or these dedicated services, there’s always support available to you after a death. Try not to isolate yourself – instead, reach out and get help.

If you feel like you want to talk to people who are in a similar situation to you, support groups can be a great help too. Having someone to chat to, who can relate to your situation, is incredibly useful.

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