Bereavement and grief – the emotional side of death

Grief frequently gives rise to strong emotions including disbelief, panic, confusion and anger.  We have to adjust to life without the person we have lost.  It can be hard to believe we will even enjoy life again. But our grieving will ease and gradually life will become more bearable and even pleasurable.

 THERE’S NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO GRIEVE. No two people’s grief will be the same. Each of us is likely to experience a range of feelings, which vary from day to day.

Physical symptoms may include: hollowness in the stomach, sensitivity to noise, chest or throat tightness, lack of energy, dry mouth and fatigue.



may include: sadness, anger, guilt, self-reproach, anxiety, loneliness,  hopelessness, shock,  relief, numbness.
Behavioural changes may include: insomnia, changes in  appetite, forgetful behaviour, social withdrawal, dreams of the deceased, avoiding reminders of the deceased, overactivity, crying or treasuring objects that are reminders.
Thoughts may include: confusion, preoccupation with the deceased, a sense of presence of the deceased, auditory and visual hallucinations.


Do men and women grieve differently?

Women tend to have stronger responses than men and find it easier to talk about their feelings.  Sometimes men may ‘act strong’, and hide their true emotions and conceal their vulnerability. Many try to keep busy and avoid talking about the death. This is their way of coping and should be respected.  However, they need to know it is not wrong to seek help.


Physical effects of bereavement

Bereavement can take a huge toll on the body.  Symptoms can include exhaustion, uncontrollable crying, sleep disruption, palpitations, breathlessness, headaches, infections, high blood pressure, loss of appetite, stomach upsets, hair loss, disruption of the menstrual cycle, irritability, worsening of any chronic condition, and visual and auditory hallucinations.


Effects on the nervous system


Sluggishness and tiredness, increase in pulse and blood pressure


Decreased immunity


More colds and infections; pre-existing painful problems such as arthritis may worsen and chronic health conditions flare up


Physical and mental


Depression and Anxiety – symptoms may include disrupted sleep, loss of appetite, racing pulse, hot sweats and drug and alcohol dependency. Visual and auditory hallucinations may occur and are part of the grieving process.


Children and bereavement

As adults, we know that death is universal, inevitable and the end of physical life. But children’s understanding of death comes gradually.


Under five years:


  • final and forever mean nothing, death and life are interchangeable
  • dead means less alive
  • death is a sleep or a journey
From five to eight years:


  • death is final
  • death is often seen as the end result of violence and aggression
  • there is an intense interest in the rituals surrounding death

From around nine years onwards:


  • death is the perceptible end of bodily life
  • dead is dead
  • death is inevitable, final and universal

 Do children grieve differently?

Loss is not unknown to children, e.g. they have been weaned and started new schools, although they may have little understanding of their reactions or how to express what they feel.  How children cope with loss will depend to some extent on their personalities, but mostly in the way their parents or carers have guided them.


Babies and  toddlers


May not understand about death but will react to those around them e.g. a grieving mother will convey her feelings to her baby, who may respond by constantly crying.
Primary school children May experience similar feelings to adults, but may not show feelings openly, leading parents and others to believe that they are not affected by the death. Any altered behaviour may indicate that they need support and acknowledgement of their pain. E.g.becoming withdrawn, bed-wetting, lack of concentration, clinging, bullying, lying and being aggressive.

Grief reactions are similar to adults’ but negative feelings may lead to aggression. Mood swings and depression are common but it may be difficult to separate them from normal adolescent behaviour. Tension and fighting within the family may become more common.


Suggested Books which can be read by/to young children

  • Goodbye Mog – Judith Kerr (ISBN-13: 978-0007149698)
  • Always and Forever – Alan Durant  (ISBN-13: 978-0552548779)
  • Sad Isn’t Bad: A Good-grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing with Loss (Elf-Help Books for Kids)  Michaelene Mundy  (ISBN-13: 978-0870293214)
  • Lifetimes – Bryan Mellonie (ISBN-13: 978-0553344028)