Early grief and mourning


The death of someone close to you can come as a tremendous shock. In shock; you may feel shaky, numb, out of touch with things around you, have difficulty breathing, dry mouth, nausea, tightness in the throat and chest, fatigue or a feeling of emptiness. Shock is common during the days and weeks immediately following a death. 


Our mind only allows us to feel our loss slowly. You may experience numbness after the death of someone close, and what has happened may seem unreal. The thought “this can’t really be happening” may recur. The numbness can be distressing in itself, for example if you cannot cry at the funeral. In fact, numbness is a normal reaction which protects you from feeling too much pain all at once, and may be a help in getting through the practical arrangements. 


It is natural to find it difficult to believe what has happened, and when a death is untimely, it is even harder to grasp the permanence of the loss. On one level you ‘know’ that the person has died, but on another, deeper, level it may seem impossible to accept that the person who has died is not going to be around any more. Confusion, panic and fear are common. You will need time to take in what has happened, and it may help to talk it through with other people. The funeral and other remembrance rituals will help you accept the reality of the death. 


Numbness and shock sometimes give way to an overwhelming sense of loss, and many bereaved people find themselves instinctively ‘searching’ for the person they have lost: calling their name, talking to their photographs, dreaming the person is back or looking out for them in the street. You may ‘see’ the person who died, or hear them talking to you, and fear that you are going mad, but these are quite common experiences after bereavement. 

Anguish and pining

As your loss begins to make itself felt, pining for the person who has died is common. Powerful and desperate longings to see, touch, talk to and be with the lost person can be frightening in their intensity. You may go over and over what has happened, replaying things in your head or talking them through repeatedly. The need to talk about a person following their death is part of the natural struggle to come to terms with their loss. 

Physical and emotional stress

The death of someone close to you is a major source of stress, which can show itself physically and emotionally. Restlessness, sleeplessness and fatigue are common, as are vivid dreams and difficulty concentrating or remembering things. You may experience dizziness, palpitations, shakes or difficulty breathing. Intense emotional pain may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as headaches, loss of appetite, nausea and diarrhoea, and for women, their normal menstruation cycle may be disturbed. Sexual interest may also be affected. 

The physical effects of grief usually pass with time. 

A common phrase from the newly bereaved is “I feel like I’m going crazy”. The pain and accompanying emotions are so intense that it doesn’t seem possible that a normal human being can experience them and still live. You may believe that you are going insane or are at least on the verge of it, but you are not. You are experiencing the normal physical and psychological reactions to deep loss.1 

In the aftermath of the death, you may feel overwhelmed and think you’ll never be able to cope. Don’t expect too much of yourself. Try not to think too much of the future, but concentrate on getting through one day at a time. Accept help from friends or relatives and ask for extra help if you need it (for example, someone to drive you to appointments). Things are likely to improve with time. 

1. The grief of the newly bereaved. Margaret Gerner (1991). The Compassionate Friends Newsletter, summer edition.