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after they are gone

 

Everyone grieves in different ways. While your grief may be similar in some ways to other people's, it will still be individual to you. It's your own experience.

 

While there's no formula or timeline, there are some things you can do that may help you as time passes.

what grief is like

Grief can be an overpowering emotion. The pain can seem impossible to bear and just managing everyday life may feel too hard at times. You might fear that you'll never experience happiness again. This is completely normal.

 

One myth about people who are bereaved is that they will eventually forget or move on from their grief. The fact is that the person who died will always be part of you, and you’ll always have a relationship with them.

 

Another myth is that grief is a linear process you can go through, ticking off each stage, and eventually complete. Grief is actually something that comes and goes, rising and falling, and not always easy to predict.

one day at a time

You might have already been told that taking it one day at a time, or even one hour at a time, is a way to manage grief. This can be a key way to get through the most difficult moments, and can be useful if you feel overwhelmed by the thought of getting through the next year, month or even week.

 

Whatever you need to do to get through each day is completely valid. For some people crying helps, whereas others find distracting themselves with work or tasks is useful. Some people exercise, some sleep, and some occupy themselves with memories. Do what works for you at that particular time.

the first few months

Some people say the first few months are a blur. As well as emotional exhaustion, it’s common to experience insomnia, extreme tiredness, constant crying or being completely numb and unable to cry. Many people speak about struggling to the get their energy back or lacking the motivation to try. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to cope.

 

Because the loss can feel particularly raw at this time, getting one-on-one support can help. A grief counsellor can provide a safe and supportive environment, and also help you find ways to cope that work for you.

longer term

As time passes, things may become easier, though this may not always be the case. Moments of overwhelming grief are likely to get further apart, but this doesn’t mean you won’t still be struggling, have questions or feel strong emotions. You won’t have forgotten the person who died or stopped missing them every day, but you may feel less overwhelmed by their death.

 

One big challenge is that you'll probably still want to talk about them, but it might seem like there are fewer opportunities to do this. Some people who have been there to support you may begin to move away.

 

You might also feel as if you are expected to “get over it” or “get on with things”. Friends and colleagues reach a point where they want you to be okay and can be uncomfortable with ongoing grief, so it’s common for bereaved people to put on a mask and pretend they are okay.

 

It’s important not to try to meet others’ expectations beyond what feels right for you. You don't have to fit in, and it's okay to still be struggling. How you feel, even years on, is simply how you feel. Your experiences and feelings are valid. Talking to your friends about this can help them support you, but unfortunately some of them may not always be able to.

joining a support group

Many people find joining a support group can really help at this time. Speaking to others who have shared similar experiences can validate your feelings and ease the burden. Redkite runs regular phone-based support groups for bereaved parents and we can help you find other groups as well.

 

Professional support and counselling can also be a very useful path, especially if you feel you are really struggling through bereavement, no matter how much time has passed.

bereavement and relationships

Grief is difficult for any close relationship. Some will be strengthened but others will be deeply challenged. No matter how strong a partnership is, it can understandably be strained by the experience.

 

It can be helpful to remember that people grieve in different ways. Your partner’s way of coping could be very different to yours and this could cause misunderstanding or friction. You might also feel you don’t have the energy to support them, or that they don’t have the energy to support you.

 

Communication can help, as can acknowledging that you might need support from other people like family and friends. It may also be useful to seek the support of professionals, either separately or as a couple.

bereaved parents

If your child has died from cancer, Redkite will be here to support you for as long as you need. Through our work supporting parents whose children have died from cancer, we’ve heard that the following things that have been helpful:

  • Remember it’s okay to talk about them, and to use their name
  • Don’t make rushed decisions on what to do with their belongings
  • If possible, don't make major life decisions – like selling your house or giving up your job – in the early weeks or months
  • Think about how you would like to respond to difficult questions like “How many children do you have?”
  • Find a support group – there's comfort in sharing with other parents who understand the loss of a child. Redkite’s support team can help you find a group that suits you
  • Recognise that there will be good and bad days
  • Talk to a counsellor and use email counselling if it’s too hard to talk over the phone or in person
  • Give yourself permission to ignore other people’s expectations
  • Look after yourself in ways that works for you – exercise, music, spending time in a special place
  • Allow time to think about your child and let their memory flourish

We know that grief doesn’t just disappear, and we also understand that it takes energy to reach out and ask for help. We can go at your pace. Our support team is here to listen.

their belongings

At some stage, you might want to think about what to do with your child’s room and belongings. Sometimes people will pressure you to do this quickly, but there is no need to and no rush. There's no right time for this, and you don't need to change anything if you don’t want to. If you're thinking about any changes, remember to include any siblings in the decisions if they’re old enough, as it can have a big impact on them too.

 

As well as physical belongings, your child may have had bank accounts you'll need to close, memberships to cancel and email or social media accounts to shut down. You and your child may also have decided to leave a social media page like Facebook open after their death, as a place where their friends can come to remember and grieve together. If you choose to do this, it’s a good idea to have someone else look after the page for you.

helping siblings grieve

As a bereaved parent, you may also have other children who need support, and it can be challenging to find the energy to be there for them. Some children will try to hide their feelings to protect parents, while others may seem to be coping at first but will show signs of grief later. Siblings’ grief can show in ways like difficult behaviour or struggling at school.

 

To support brothers and sisters, you can:

  • Encourage them to keep talking about their sibling and give them opportunities to remember
  • Listen to and validate their feelings
  • Ask family or close friends to spend extra time with them
  • Give them information and access to counselling and support groups if they're interested
  • Don’t hide your own grief, but do let them know that you'll be okay in spite of your deep sadness
  • Boundaries are still important – keeping family rules as close to normal as possible can help with stability

Your social worker and the Redkite support team can also provide support for siblings.

other people’s expectations

People outside your family can both help and hinder at this time. Some will find it hard to understand what you're going through and that life has changed forever. Unfortunately, there may be many people who don’t know how to help or talk to you and can do more harm than good with well-meaning comments. Some people will simply disappear because they don’t know how to deal with death and grief.

 

It’s not your role to meet other people’s expectations or to worry about their feelings. You need to concentrate on yourself and your family. At the same time, there are likely to be some great people, even some you didn’t know well before, who'll support you.

anniversaries and significant dates

Many people find it helpful to prepare for significant days or anniversaries in advance. Days like birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day, graduations and weddings are likely to be challenging.

 

Acknowledging that these events will be difficult and having a plan on how to spend them can help. It can also be useful to know that many people say it's the events in the second year after bereavement that they find the hardest, because this is when the reality and permanence of the situation can really set in. For example, the realisation that “there will always been an empty seat at Christmas dinner” becomes more solid. Some families find comfort in starting new traditions or finding ways to celebrate their loved one and include their memory as part of the event.

 

Remember, just as much as significant dates, it is often the little things that can be difficult, like finding an old piece of clothing, a particular smell or running into a friend. In time, this will become easier. the future As time passes, days will get easier. There will still be challenges and bad days, but it will be easier.

 

There is no timeline, but at some point you will start to feel better and find a new routine or rhythm. There will be some kind of meaning, purpose or worth in life again, even if it's very different to how you previously understood it. This is all normal. Importantly, the person who died will not be forgotten, nor will your relationship with them end. You will remain connected with them, but in a way that allows you to move forward.

Last updated September 2015.