Bereavement and Grief

What is the grieving process?

In virtually every culture across the world, bereavement is the normal human reaction to death. Bereavement affects people differently, as each person and each loss is very different. There is no ‘normal’ period of bereavement. The best thing we can do is to allow ourselves to feel the grief as it occurs and to accept comfort from those closest to us. When bereavement is having a serious negative impact on your or someone else’s life, this is when you might need support.

Stages of bereavement

  • Denial and isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

People who are grieving may not go through all of these stages or experience them in the same order whilst others can experience them all at the same time.

Denial is a common, and often helpful, defence mechanism against bereavement and grief.

On hearing or experiencing something terrible we might say “This can’t be happening.” We block out the facts and ignore our emotions to protect ourselves from the immediate shock of the loss. By denying the reality of the situation we have space to rationalise our overwhelming emotions.

For most people experiencing grief, this stage is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.

As we pass through denial, the reality and pain of the situation sets in. Again, to protect ourselves from the intense sadness, we express the emotion as anger. 

Our anger may be aimed at friends and family, at inanimate objects, at complete strangers or at ourselves. We could even feel anger towards the dying or dead loved one, or the healthcare professionals who are trying to help them.

Rationally we know they are not to blame, but irrationally we may resent them for the pain we feel. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.

Often it is the lack of control in such situations that adds to our feeling of helplessness and vulnerability. We may try to take back control by making bargains with a higher power or promises to ourselves. “If she’s allowed to live, I swear I’ll be a better person.” “If he pulls through, I’ll do everything I can to help him.” 

We try to take back control and buy some time to help us come to terms with the situation. This is often accompanied by guilt, asking ourselves what we could have done differently to change the outcome, another attempt to take back some control: “What if I’d made him go to the GP sooner?” “If only I’d been a better friend.”

Sadness associated with bereavement generally takes two different forms. We may feel sadness and regret about the practical implications of our loss. This might be worry about the cost of the funeral arrangements. We might feel guilt about not spending time with other loved ones during our grieving. Kindness, reassurance and patience from those around you can help you through this phase.

The second form of sadness is related to our emotional connection to the person who has died, how we prepare ourselves to say goodbye to them and to learn to cope with their death in the long-term.

Not everyone who is bereaved will reach the stage of acceptance. Death may be sudden, violent or so unexpected that some people may never be able to move beyond their anger or denial.

Acceptance is not forgetting the pain and loss, but reaching a stage where the sadness is less intense, we feel more calm, we acknowledge that life goes on and we begin to look to the future.

Tips to help you through the grieving process

The death of someone close to us is one of the most stressful things we will ever experience. There is an increased risk of both mental and physical health problems following a bereavement.

Remember that grieving for someone can begin before they die, if you are aware that they are reaching the end of their life, if they have an incurable condition or are suffering from dementia.

  • Let family, friends and colleagues know what you’re going through so they can provide you with more support if you need it.
  • Find a support group or talk to people who have gone through a similar experience. They may be able to offer comfort and advice.
  • Ask for help when you need it, but also tell people that you might be out of touch for a while as you cope with your grief.
  • Give yourself time and space to go through the normal process of grieving.

Try not to neglect your physical health during what can be a very busy and emotional time. Being physically unwell will make it harder to cope with the emotional burden.

  • You may have less of an appetite, but try to eat well and regularly.
  • Get plenty of rest. You may find it hard to get to sleep, have vivid dreams or disturbed sleep.
  • You may feel tense, perhaps short of breath and lacking energy. Try not to do too much and let your body guide you.
  • If possible, speak to your employer about taking time off work or delegating work to a colleague.
  • Take control of the practical things such as the financial and legal aspects of bereavement. This will help you to feel more in control.
  • Explain the situation to your child/children in language they will understand that is appropriate to their age.
  • Encourage them to talk about how they feel and reassure them it’s normal to feel sad, scared, angry, etc.
  • Tell them about any changes to their routine that may result from the death.
  • Talk to their teachers to make sure they know what is happening and can support your child if necessary.
  • Listen to their concerns and feelings – and provide lots of hugs and reassurance.

When you know that someone is reaching the end of their life you can begin to prepare yourself for the loss. This is by no means an easy process, and you may swing from rationally accepting that they are going to die to fervently believing they are going to recover.

Talking about death is not morbid; it is natural and can be helpful in preparing you and others for what is going to happen. Having as much information as possible to hand can help you to feel more in control of the situation.

Depression is a natural part of grief, and usually lifts of its own accord. Again, talking about it will help you to manage and process your feelings. If you feel that your depression is getting worse and you can’t cope, talk to your GP about getting some support.

  • Give yourself time to go through the different stages of bereavement. They are a completely natural response and allowing yourself to feel and experience them will help in the grieving process.
  • You could try setting aside regular time with a photograph or object connected to the person who has died to think about them and acknowledge your feelings about them.
  • Some people are uncomfortable talking about death and grief. Try not to get frustrated if people don’t react the way you would like them to. Most people are doing their best to say and do the right thing.
  • Look after yourself – eat well, get out in nature, take time for yourself.
  • Remind yourself of the good things in life, whether that’s spending time with people who make you happy, eating your favourite food, visiting a special place.
  • Doing something to help other people can help. You could try volunteering at a food bank or homeless shelter or bake a cake for someone you care about.
  • Try going to a support group, online or in person. It can help to talk to people who have gone through a similar experience.
  • Be kind to yourself. Remember that this is one of the most distressing things you will go through in life and don’t expect too much of yourself.

Is someone you know grieving?

It can be difficult to know what to say or do as the person you care about struggles with painful and intense emotions. They may express their grief as anger, which can alienate friends and family who are trying to help. They may feel isolated and alone, guilty or profoundly sad.

Grief is different for everybody. There is no right or wrong, no way they ‘should’ feel or behave. It can be chaotic and unpredictable with setbacks occurring when you think they are starting to feel better.

Grief may make people behave differently. They may feel angry, despairing, guilty or afraid. They may go into themselves in silence, rage and swear at anyone who will listen or cry endlessly. Reassure them that whatever they feel is normal. Don’t judge them or take what they say or do personally.

Grief takes as long as it takes. ‘Recovery’ from bereavement can take months or years. Don’t suggest your loved one has grieved long enough or that they should have got over it by now. Their grieving process will be longer if it isn’t allowed to run its natural course.

  • Don’t be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Reaching out to someone is what’s important. They are already feeling intense sadness; it is unlikely you will make it worse.
  • You don’t need to have answers, just be there to listen, to acknowledge their feelings and let them know you care.
  • Understand that everyone grieves differently.
  • Offer practical help such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, help with childcare.
  • Keep up your care and support after the funeral. Their grieving process may only just be beginning after a busy time of planning and preparing the funeral.

More than anything, a bereaved person needs to feel that their loss and pain is acknowledged. It’s more important to simply listen and sympathise than to try to offer any words of wisdom or to avoid the subject for fear or causing pain.

They may move between wanting to talk about the person who has died and what happened, to wanting to talk about something else entirely, to rant and rave at you, or simply to sit in silence in your company. Just by being there, you can be a source of comfort.

How to talk—and listen—to someone who’s grieving

You could start by simply asking “Do you feel like talking about it?” Let the person you care for know that you’re there to listen if they want to talk, but don’t try and force them. If they want to, talk openly about the person who died. Don’t actively avoid saying their name or steer the conversation away. When it seems appropriate, ask sensitive questions that give them an opportunity to express their feelings.

Acknowledge what has happened. You could say something as simple as: “I heard that your father died.” Don’t be afraid of using the ‘death’ words. Many people prefer it to ‘loss’ and ‘passed’ and it gives them a chance to talk openly without fear that they will upset you

Express your concern. For example: “I’m so sorry this has happened to you.”

Let them talk about how their loved one died. Talking about what has happened in detail, often again and again, is a vital stage in processing and accepting the death. The pain, and often trauma, lessons slightly with each telling and your patience will help them in the healing process.

Keep asking how they feel. Don’t assume they feel a certain way or the way you felt when something similar happened to you. Grief is intensely personal and dependent on the circumstances of the death and the nature of the relationship. 

Accept their feelings. Their feelings may also fluctuate between sadness, anger, guilt, fear or regret. Let them know that it’s okay to cry in front of you, or to feel however they feel without fear of being judged or criticised. Keep listening to whatever they’re going through.

If you don’t know what to say, tell them.  Say “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care.” It’s much better than trying to offer advice or platitudes.

Be willing to sit in silence. Not everyone will want to talk. Comfort can come from simply being with another person, not feeling alone. They might appreciate eye contact, a smile, a squeeze of the hand or a hug.

Ask what you can do to help. They might appreciate help with something specific like funeral arrangements, or just be there to make a cup of tea and be a shoulder to cry on.


Things to avoid saying to someone who’s grieving

“It’s part of God’s plan.” This phrase can make people angry, especially if they have no religious beliefs.

“You’ve got so much to be thankful for.” They know they have things to be thankful for, but right now their grief is more important.

“They’re in a better place now.” They may or may not believe this. Don’t offer your religious or spiritual views unless asked.

“This is behind you now; it’s time to get on with your life.” Moving on happens at their own pace, the process can’t be speeded up or willed to happen. This may also come across as insensitive, as if you think they should forget about their loved one.

Avoid statements that begin with “You should…” or “You will…”. There is no right or wrong way to feel or behave, and it might come across as telling people what to do. Instead you could say “Have you thought about…” or “You could try…”

People who are grieving may feel guilty about imposing on others, worry about being a burden or simply don’t have the energy to think about how other people might be able to help them.

Make things easier by offering specific help: “I’m going to the supermarket this afternoon. What can I bring you?” or “I’ve made a casserole for dinner. What time can I come over with it?”

Be consistent and keep asking. They might not want help at first but will appreciate it if you’re still asking when they do need help.

Some specific things you could help with:

  • Shop for groceries or run errands
  • Drop off a meal
  • Help with funeral arrangements
  • Help with bills
  • Help with housework
  • Help with childcare or the school run
  • Drive them wherever they need to go
  • Go with them to a support group meeting
  • Go for a walk together
  • Take them out somewhere
  • Share an enjoyable activity (sport, game, puzzle, art project)

For many, the time after the funeral can be very hard. Grief is still raw but a lot of the ritual around death is over and it can feel like support ebbs away. The grieving process often lasts much longer than most people expect.

Stay in touch regularly. Pop round, send emails, texts, letters or cards. Let the person know you are still there for them, that their grief is still important.

Don’t assume they are okay. They may look fine on the outside and say they’re okay, but inside they may be suffering. Avoid saying things like “You are so strong” or “You look so well.” This will make it harder for them to share their true feelings.

Their pain may never go away. Life has changed forever for them. The pain may lesson over the long-term, but the sadness will probably never go away. Be sensitive to the fact that they won’t ‘get over’ it.

Offer extra support on meaningful days. Holidays, family milestones, birthdays and anniversaries can be difficult times that reawaken grief. Be sensitive, help them to mark the occasion if they want to and let them know that you’re there.

If feelings of sadness don’t start to fade over time, or they get worse, it may be a sign that the normal grieving process has become something more serious such as clinical depression.

If you see any of the following warning signs after the initial grieving stage – especially if its been over six months since the death – encourage them to seek professional help:

  • Difficulty functioning in daily life
  • Extreme focus on the death
  • Excessive bitterness, anger, or guilt
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Inability to enjoy life
  • Hallucinations
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Constant feelings of hopelessness
  • Talking about dying or suicide

Local support

Find local bereavement support around Doncaster

Tel: 0330 088 9255



Amparo offers assistance to those impacted by suicide, providing support tailored to individual needs. This can be in the form of one-on-one sessions, family or group settings, depending on personal preferences and circumstances. Services can be delivered at your preferred location, including your home. Access to these services requires a referral.


Coping with the loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult things to happen in our lives. During times of grief, there is somebody you can talk to and organisations that offer a range of support.

Visit the website to see what support is available.

Tel: 01302 309 800

The community hub and women’s centre provides a base for a wide range of services aimed at supporting women and their children in the community.

The service offers Mental health support in partnership with Doncaster Mind, provide counselling, one-to-one support, therapeutic group work and bereaved by suicide support groups.

Tel: 01302 812190



People over the age of 18, living in Doncaster can access one to one support, peer support, guided learning and well being sessions, Counselling and bereaved by suicide support.


Take a look at our advice article on the organisations and groups that can support you if you’re grieving.

Phone: 07943 318494


Meeting day: 2nd Tuesday of every month

Groups are open to anyone over 18 and create an opportunity for people to meet with others who have been bereaved by suicide so that they can share experiences and ask questions.

The Healthier Together website has a dedicated information and advice page supporting you to talk to your child about death and grief.


National support organisations

See what national support is available for bereavement.

Tel: 0808 8000 401



Brake’s National Road Victim Service is a specialist service for people affected by road death and serious injury and the professionals supporting them. The nationally accredited helpline provides emotional and practical support to people affected by road crashes.

Tel: 0800 02 888 40



Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals both when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, and when a child is facing bereavement. The helpline provides confidential support, information and guidance to individuals, families and professionals throughout the UK. The support team is available to respond to calls, live chats and emails 9am–5pm, Monday to Friday, except for Bank Holidays.

Tel: 0808 808 1677



The freephone national helpline is staffed by trained bereavement volunteers, who offer emotional support to anyone affected by bereavement. Cruse Bereavement Care is here to support you after the death of someone close. They offer a range of free confidential support for adults and children.

Tel: 0808 802 0111



Grief Encounter supports bereaved children and their families to help alleviate the pain caused by the death of someone close. At Grief Encounter, alongside personal support, you will have access to resources that can help you communicate how and what you are feeling, and coping with your loss.

Tel: 0808 802 6868



Confidential bereavement support to anyone affected by the sudden and unexpected death of a baby or young child. The bereavement support helpline offers the opportunity to talk freely, for as long as required, with a sympathetic and understanding listener. Calls are free from all landlines and most mobile phone networks. The helpline is open 10am-5pm from Monday to Friday and 6pm-10pm on weekends and public holidays.


The information could help if your child has lost or is about to lose someone, such as a family member or friend.

Tel: 0808 164 3332



Run by and for parents whose baby has died, either at birth or shortly afterwards. The helpline is for anyone who has been affected by the death of a baby and wants to talk to someone about their experience. The team are there to listen and give support, and can advise you about finding local help, whether from a Sands group or other counselling services, or information about other relevant support organisations.

Tel: 0345 123 2304



TCF offers many different kinds of support for bereaved families after the death of a child of any age and from any cause.

Tel: 08088 020 021



Winston’s Wish supports children and young people after the death of a parent or sibling. The freephone national helpline offers therapeutic advice following a bereavement and the online chat is designed to help you talk about your grief and manage your grief when you do feel like you need help.

Support Apps

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