The recent passing of HRH Queen Elizabeth II saw an unprecedented level of collective national grief across the United Kingdom, with even those publicly identifying as non-royalists expressing their sadness and feelings of grief. As a light royalist with a huge respect for the Queen, I was very sad when the news broke. Over the 2 weeks of national mourning and on the day of the funeral itself I experienced deeper feelings of grief. In my 53 years, she had always been there, always a presence of stability and part of my national identity – a constant through the ever-changing ups and downs of life. Her passing felt like a loss of a family member or close friend, and like I’ve heard so many others say, it caused me to reflect on the recent passing of my uncle, and last year that of my father.
It’s common to beat ourselves up at these times and dwell on the regrets, the missed opportunities, the bad words or fights. That’s normal, and there is no harm in that, as long as you don’t overly dwell on these negative thoughts so much that they drive your emotions and behaviour. Instead, and as we see with many funerals, celebrate their life and the amazing person they were. All their achievements, what they did and how they made people’s lives better. What they meant to you as a parent, partner, sibling or friend. Those shared moments, the things you experienced together, and the things that they taught you or helped you with.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel following a loss and no time limit on how long you are affected by it. Grief can be triggered by the seemingly most random events and at any time, even far into the future after the actual event. Some people seek help immediately by showing their emotions and talking to people, while others prefer to deal with things slowly, quietly or by themselves. Grief is always stressful and no one can predict how they will react to it, but commonly after a loss people experience some of the following:
- Sadness or depression at the realisation of the loss, and on reflection of the things you did together and memories of your shared experiences.
- Shock, denial and numbness which are natural protection, are often experienced in the early stages following a loss and help us to process it at our own pace. Be mindful though if feeling frozen, with only a feeling of numbness and the blocking of other emotions.
- Anger or frustration at the unfairness of the loss and the need to blame someone or something.
- Being overwhelmed by the intensity of the loss and not knowing how to continue. Be aware that over time the feelings tend to diminish so that you can learn to live with them.
- Panic at the change of identity and the gap the person we have lost will leave in our lives, and how we will fill that gap.
- Relief and associated guilt that is often felt if the person we’ve lost had been suffering or had a long-term illness. This is a normal response and of course, does not mean we did not love or care for that person.
Remember that you may feel some or even none of these. Everybody’s situation is different and everyone will process their grief in their own way. You may also experience more physical symptoms such as sleeplessness, changes in your appetite, health problems, or simply becoming withdrawn.
Research suggests that people often experience the mourning period through a series of stages referred to as the grief cycle. This is most commonly described with the following stages:
- Denial – The first stage of the grieving process that helps us minimise the overwhelming pain of loss as we process the reality of it. We often have feelings of shock, disbelief, panic and confusion at this stage.
- Anger – We are experiencing emotional discomfort as we try to adjust to the new reality and anger may feel like it gives us an emotional outlet. A common behaviour is in looking for someone (including yourself) or somewhere to lay the blame.
- Bargaining – To cope with the loss, we can feel so desperate that we are willing to do anything to alleviate or minimise the pain. At this time we may focus on our faults or regrets. We might look back at our interactions with the person we are losing, and note all the times we felt disconnected or may have caused them pain, and experience feelings of guilt.
- Depression – Our imaginations calm down and we start to feel the reality of the situation. We start to feel the loss of our loved one more abundantly. Our panic begins to subside, the emotional fog begins to clear, and the loss feels more present and unavoidable. Common emotions at this point are of feeling tired, hopeless, helpless, like you have lost perspective, isolated or needing to be around others.
- Acceptance – This doesn’t mean that we like the situation or feel it is right or fair, but rather that we are no longer resisting the reality of our situation, and are prepared to move forward in a new direction.
This cycle will vary for every individual and can be different for the same person with each loss they may experience. The cycle is not fixed and can be experienced in any order, or moved forwards and backwards through the stages. Each stage can take any length of time, some people may need days or weeks, and others may need years.
If you’re experiencing a loss if you have someone close you feel you can speak to then do – talk about the person you are grieving for and all that was great about them, but also how you’re feeling and share your emotions with each other. If you don’t feel you can talk to someone in your circle, then there are many places you can get the help and support you need, such as charities and bereavement organisations, or many local Self-help groups that you can find through your local health services.
If you need help or support beyond your normal channels, some useful contacts are below. Although these are mostly UK focussed, if you are located elsewhere, they should give you ideas for an internet search to find similar organisations that are local to you.
ataloss.org The UK’s signposting website for the bereaved
childbereavementuk.org Support when a baby or child of any age is dying, or a child is facing bereavement.
tcf.org.uk Provides support to bereaved families after the death of a child.
thegoodgrieftrust.org Charity run by the bereaved, helping all those suffering grief in the UK
cruse.org.uk The UK’s leading bereavement charity – bereavement support, information and campaigning
samaritans.org Samaritans is open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. 116 123 (freephone)
Further reading and support: