Looking after you - coping with a recent bereavement

'Looking after you, coping with a recent bereavement' written in white text over a photograph of a lake at sunset.

There is no right or wrong way to feel if you have just experienced a recent loss. Everyone is different, and everyone’s relationship with the person who has passed away is unique, so it’s natural that each person will need different support depending on how they feel. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. The Community, and Macmillan, are here to support you. As part of this support, we wanted to put together some information about looking after yourself after a recent bereavement.

In the days or weeks after the loss

In these early days after a bereavement being kind and gentle with yourself is so important. You may be experiencing shock, numbness, anger, extreme sadness or a whole range of different emotions. There is no wrong or right way to feel, but there are a few practical things that you might find useful to help you cope.

Know that there is support out there for you

  • It might help to write down a list of contact information for people you can call for help and support and keep it somewhere you can access it easily. This is so you always have this information to hand whenever you may need it.
  • You could include friends or neighbours contact numbers or emails, and your GP’s telephone number and opening hours.
  • You could also include Macmillan’s Support Line number which is 0808 808 00 00. The Support Line is open 7 days a week 8am-8pm and our teams are here to support you - even if all you need is a listening ear.

Looking after yourself physically  

  • It can sometimes be easy to forget to look after yourself physically while you are grieving, but it’s really important to try to do what you can to make sure your health and wellbeing is looked after.
  • Grief can be very exhausting, and difficulty sleeping can be common after a loss, so try to be kind to yourself and rest as much as you can. One member of the ‘Bereaved partners and spouses group gave this advice:

‘Hi I have some tips for sleep may sound a bit out there turn your alarm clock around so can’t see the time, write down any worries in a book at night say to yourself I will deal with them in the morning. Mediation I found that difficult but can help some people did a sleep course many years ago was a group of men and women was helpful’Sunsarah

  • Some people may find it helpful to try to set a gentle routine for themselves so that their day has some structure. For example, you could try to take a shower or bath at a similar time each day, or try to leave the house for a short walk every morning.
  • Try to remember to eat and drink fluids when you can. Loss of appetite can be common after experiencing a bereavement, but trying to make sure you are eating and drinking water regularly will help you have more energy. You could try cooking small simple meals if you aren’t hugely hungry, or see if a friend or neighbour can drop round some home cooked food.
  • It may be that you don’t have much experience cooking, as your partner or family member may have done the cooking in your house. If this is the case, then you may find it useful to take a look at Macmillan’s recipe book which gives simple instructions on how to prepare meals. Click here to download the book as a PDF, or visit macmillan.org.uk to order a copy in the post.

Another member of the Community had this advice:

‘Try to sleep when you can, eat when you can and if you need to scream and cry, do it.   And most of all, keep reading the posts on this forum.  You are not alone.  Sadly, there are so many of us who are feeling or have felt as you are now.   It helped me so much and gave me comfort.  And even now, over 3 years on, I read the posts every day.’

Support for dealing with emotional impact of bereavement

Remember there is no wrong or right way to feel, but below are some of the emotions you may be experiencing after a recent loss. You may experience all of these emotions, or none of them, everyone is different, and finding the right support for you is the most important thing. Below is a bit of information about these emotions and also some support from our Community cancer forum members who have coped with loss over the years.

Shock and numbness - Many people describe feeling shocked and numb in the days and weeks after a relative or friend has died. This can happen even if the death was expected.

‘yes its a lot to take in. But what is important is to reach out like you have done, you have already done a very difficult step to take its not-easy to ask for help but never feel embarrassed or less worthy of support.’ - Gbear

 ‘Some days I don’t feel I have any coping methods but generally I take each day an hour at a time, if I manage to think of longer time slots, then I feel quite proud of myself. I try to be kind to myself- so those hard jobs, which in the early days were the official stuff, I spread out and don’t spend all day tackling them.’ - Kenickiesmum

Anger - Anger is a common feeling to be experiencing at this time. Some people describe being shocked at how angry they feel. Try not to worry about it, as it is a normal feeling to have. Anger may be directed at different people. You may feel angry with:

  • the doctors for not being able to cure your loved one
  • your relative or friend for leaving you on your own with so much to sort out
  • the people around you for not understanding how you feel

‘All I can say is grieve when you need to, sit and cry when you need to and never feel guilty or awkward to ask for help. I feel I need time to process but feel so angry right now, I know going for a walk helps me clear my mind – In fact I walk for miles. We all deal with things differently but talking helps’ – BB2020

Guilt - People feel guilty for different reasons after the death of a relative or friend. You may think that if you had said or done something differently, they might not have died. There may be things you wish you had been able to talk about or do with them while they were still alive.

‘You did everything you thought was right at the time, I have questioned some decision's I made at the time, but they were right then.’ – ellie 73

Let’s just remember all the things we did to show our love for our partners for all the years before, rather than what was out of our hands in the last few hours.’ - Bramblejoo

Loneliness - Many people describe feeling very lonely following the death of a loved one or friend. This is understandable, particularly if the person who has died is someone you shared your life or your home with for a long time. You may find yourself talking to the person who has died. It is natural to do this, and you may find it helpful.

‘The feeling of isolation is a very difficult thing to deal with but one thing I can say is here you’re not alone, there is always going to be others out there reading your story and go ‘I can relate and now I feel I am not alone’. Grief is a very difficult, and in many ways, very different ways of processing it.’ - Gbear

‘My dad is lost, its hard at night-time - no one to speak to after 58yrs marriage. But I told him talk to her don't be ashamed, I talk every day.’ – Fox71

Fear - Fear is another common and natural feeling to experience after a bereavement. For example, you may worry about having to do things on your own and how you are going to manage. Some people are frightened by how strong their feelings are. These feelings are understandable and usually get better with time.

‘I think in many ways I still live in some sort of denial in a certain level - I still don’t quite get that my future is going to be based on decisions that only I can and will make. I’ve recently taken the decision that I’m selling the family house - which only I now live in - will hate to leave in so many ways but i fear if I don’t things will stagnate for me on I’ll never really get that I need to do things different now’ – Stebee

‘I was married for 47 years so it’s like I've lost half of me, the future scares me. But everyone on this group understands so it’s good to talk and ramble, and hopefully in time our pain my ease a little.’Bluebell53 

Sadness - The sadness you feel after the death of a loved one can be overwhelming. Some people describe it as a physical pain. Some people become very depressed and stop looking after themselves properly. If this happens, you may need extra support. Call your GP to book an appointment to talk through how you are feeling or call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 to find out what support is out there for you.

‘We are at such an early stage in our grief and I’m not going to pretend that we will be okay any time soon as we probably won’t. But for me personally I know that one day I will. Life will never be the same again but I am determined to find a way in the future to try and make the most of the life I have been left with, and to enjoy the simple things, not just for me but for my husband who doesn’t get that chance anymore’ - Bramblejoo

 - Some people describe an intense longing to see, speak to or hold the person who has died. They wish the person could come back again.

 'But I do get up every morning (thanks to my two labs) and I do get on with my day and my new life within the confines of lockdown. I talk to people when walking the dogs and keep in touch with family and friends via text etc. Do I miss him. God yes. But it will be spring soon and we go on.’owl58

‘Visit somewhere your mum loved on your own and talk to her when there. She will always be around you.’ - DaveyBo

Crying - Many people find that they cry easily after a bereavement. Crying can be a response to all the emotions we describe here. Some people find they cannot cry, and this may worry them. There is no need to worry if you don’t cry. It does not mean you do not feel the loss. Crying cannot usually be forced. Just do what feels right for you.

‘I have a good cry now and again as I think of my dad and I miss him and all that he meant to me and my family but he is now in my heart where he can remain until my dying day and no one can take that away. You will be the same as they say that love lives on and it does so even though their physical presence is gone their memory and what they meant to us goes on.’ – GRANNY59

‘Today, I have shed tears, but I will pick myself up as always and carry on living as that’s what he wants me to do.’Ebony12

Relief - Some people describe feeling relieved when their loved one dies. This may be because they were very ill for a long time, needed a lot of care, or had symptoms that were difficult to control. When someone is suffering, it is natural to wish for their suffering to end. There is no need to feel guilty about this.

‘There is no right or wrong answer in grief it is a really personal experience so try not to beat yourself up for not living to some expectation of how it should be. For me when my dad died after a long illness (stokes not cancer) there was certainly massive sadness but also a sense of relief that he was no longer suffering’ src60

Other sources of support:

Community member Melanie L has written blogs about coping with bereavement, click the links below to read her thoughts.

'What Grief Has Taught Me' by Melanie - Vol 1 'The ever-changing journey of my grief'
'What grief has taught me' by Melanie - Vol 2 'The problem with looking too far ahead'
'What grief has taught me' by Melanie - Vol 3 'The time for good self-care is now'

Macmillan also has a booklet called After someone dies, coping with bereavement’ which is full of lots of useful information and support. Click here to download this booklet as a PDF, or visit be.Macmillan.org.uk to order a copy in the post.

Whatever you are feeling, remember that the Community is here 24/7 for peer support. Our ‘Bereaved family and friends’ group, as well as our ‘Bereaved spouses and partners’ group, are safe and supportive spaces where you can speak openly about how you are feeling. Your GP and the Macmillan Support Line are also here for you, so always remember to speak out if you need support.

  • In the current situation it is easy to feel alone and the knowledge that there are people who really understand helps. I am having to learn to cook, rather than be a Sous chef, and I am hoping to keep our lovely garden going to reflect my husbands personality. I have planned a wake, get together when friends can meet again and am planning this for my husbands birthday in late spring. 

  • Hi ,

    Thank you so much for your comment, my name is Rachel and I work as part of the Community team here at Macmillan.

    Firstly, I just want to say how sorry I was to hear about the loss of your husband. I want to send my sincerest condolences to you and your family at this time. I can really appreciate that the current situation with COVID19 has made things harder for many who have recently lost a loved one, and I hope that speaking to others here on the Community helps to provide you with some support at this time and shows you that you are not alone.

    I also want to thank you for sharing your experiences here, as we know how important it is for our members to hear from others who may be going through something similar. Here on the team we see every day the benefits of peer support, so I’m sure your words will provide comfort to all those who may read them.

    As well as the Community, do keep in mind our Support Line teams are here for you, even if it’s simply a listening ear you need. That number’s 0808 808 00 00, and our teams are available 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm, you can also contact our advisers over our Live webchat during these hours as well.  

    I hope the above information is useful but if you have any questions, or ever need any support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us via email at community@macmillan.org.uk.

    Kindest regards,

    Macmillan’s Community team

  • Thanks Rachel, Keeping busy helps, and as we both had cancer it's nice to know I can reach out if I need to:)

  • Hi

    Thanks for your response, I'm glad to hear that you find keeping busy helps.

    Of course, please do reach out any time you need support. The Community, and Macmillan, are here for you at this time, so please don't hesitate to get in touch if there is ever anything we can do to help. 

    Kindest regards,

    Macmillan's Community team