Coping with bereavement

Bereavement can be a distressing and devastating experience. Whilst bereavement is a very personal event, the majority of people go through a range of normal reactions and emotions when they lose somebody close to them. There is no right or wrong way to feel.

It is generally accepted that there are four stages of bereavement. These are:-

  • accepting that the loss is real
  • experiencing the pain of grief
  • adjusting to life without the person who has died
  • moving on.

The vast majority of people will go through some, or all of these stages, however the transition from one stage to the next is not always smooth. Sometimes, people may feel that they are not in control of their grief, but with time, these feelings will pass. Understanding that grief is a normal process, and learning strategies to cope with grief can help.

For further information on the various stages of bereavement, see the NHS choices website.

The signs of grief

Bereaved people are likely to experience some/all of the feelings, physical sensations, thoughts and behaviour patterns set out below. These symptoms are not limited to the recently bereaved, for some it may take many years to overcome the feeling of grief.

Emotions

People may experience any/all of the following emotions:-

  • emotionally numb/empty
  • sad and tearful
  • overwhelmed and helpless
  • stressed
  • angry.

Physical symptoms

Along with the emotions, grief can often manifest itself in a range of physical symptoms. These include:-

  • exhaustion
  • loss of appetite
  • lack of energy
  • poor concentration
  • disrupted sleep/insomnia.

Thoughts

People are often troubled by thoughts that simply will not go away. These include:-

  • wishing that the person who had died was back
  • if only we had had a little more time
  • what am I going to do/how will I cope
  • missing and thinking of the person constantly.

Behaviour patterns

There are certain types of behaviour that are synonymous with grief. These include:-

  • withdrawing from social contact
  • not talking about the loss
  • talking about the loss for a long time after
  • avoidance of anything relating to the loss
  • an increasing dependence on alcohol and or drugs.

Dealing with grief

Whilst life can never be the same again after a bereavement, over time the grief and pain will lessen. In the meantime, it is best to seek help whilst you learn to adapt.

Managing bereavement at work

For many, there is the temptation to throw themselves back into work, in an effort to forget everything else. However, wherever possible, it is a good idea to give yourself time to recover before returning to work. For more information about taking time off work, see the government website.

Most companies have a bereavement policy, that will allow employees to take time off for bereavement leave. ACAS have published a good practice guide for managing bereavement in the workplace, however, these are only guidelines, and many employees go back to work before they are ready.

If you need time off work owing to a bereavement and are struggling to get it, we can refer you to our specialist employment adviser at the Citizens Advice Bureau for further information and advice.

For further information about our referral service, call our enquiry line on 0808 168 2233, e-mail us at info@pharmacistsupport.org, or contact us via live chat.

Sharing your grief

Many people find it comforting to share their feelings. According to CRUSE, the UK organisation offering support to bereaved people, one of the most helpful things is to talk about the person who has died and your relationship with them. This can often be with close friends and family, but this is not always possible as often they may be grieving as well. Many people need additional support in order to move on. Others who can help include a faith/spiritual adviser, your GP or a support organisation.

For a full list of support organisations, please see below under Other useful information.

Pharmacist Support – Listening Friends

Pharmacist Support’s Listening Friends service offers a confidential listening ear. You can contact our Listening Friends Helpline on 0808 168 5133, or you could contact our enquiry line on 0808 168 2233.

Dependency issues following a bereavement

Many factors can cause people to turn to ‘crutches’ such as alcohol and drugs following the loss of a loved one. This is more likely when a death has been unexpected and where there is a lack of cohesive social support in place.

Alcohol

For some, the numbing effect of alcohol can provide relief from thinking about or facing up to problems relating to loss. Equally, for some, it can be viewed as an aid to sleep. However, rather than aiding sleep, people are more likely to wake up during the night as their body processes the alcohol they have consumed.

Drugs

For some, drugs can be see as a distraction, again often used to avoid problems relating to loss. However, using such substances can be very damaging and can lead to a habit of regular or increased use of substance misuse.

Pharmacist Support Health Support Programme

The Health Support Programme exists to support those with dependency issues.  This service provides access to a fully qualified addiction specialist with many years of experience in the field, and all calls to the helpline are entirely confidential. If you have a dependency issue, you can contact the Health Support Programme direct for advice.

Call Health Support direct on 0808 168 5132, or for further details, visit our website.

Fitness to practise following bereavement

Pharmacists may find that their fitness to practise can be affecting following a bereavement. It is important to try to differentiate between normal grief, and something more serious such as depression. It can be very difficult to distinguish between grief and depression, as many of the symptoms are similar. According to the NHS choices website, whilst people who are grieving may feel loss and sadness, they are still able to enjoy things and look forward to the future. By comparison, people who are suffering from depression have a constant feeling of sadness and find it hard to be positive about the future.

For further information about the differences between grief and depression, see the NHS choices website.

Pharmacists who are suffering from grief are unlikely to find that this will effect their long term ability to practise. For those whose grief has turned into depression, or has resulted in a dependency issue, the impact on their fitness to practise could be substantial. Seek help at the earliest possible opportunity, if you are feeling depressed, have a chat with your GP to see what help can be provided.

In terms of medical conditions, the GPhC need pharmacists to demonstrate that they are aware of their condition and also that they have it under control. If this is not the case, pharmacists could be subjected to an investigation and possible fitness to practise hearing.

Pharmacists with dependency issues should seek help as soon as possible. Please see above for the Pharmacist Support Health Support Programme details. Also, pharmacists can contact their GP or other appropriate health care worker for further help.

For additional information, see the Pharmacist Support Help with alcoholism fact sheet and the Pharmacist Support Help with drug abuse fact sheet.

Other useful information:

Bereavement

Cruse

Cruse are a leading charity offering advice and support for people who are bereaved. Their website has a range of information for people dealing with a bereavement or those supporting others, for example, adults supporting children.They have a national telephone helpline: 0844 477 9400 or they can be contacted by email: helpline@cruse.org.uk. They also have local branches which can provide one to one support.

The Bereavement Trust

The Bereavement Trust is a multilingual national free-phone helpline, offering comfort, support and practical advice to the bereaved. For further information, call the helpline on any of the following numbers depending on the language needed:-

  • English helpline – 0800 435 455
  • Chinese helpline (volunteers are fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin) – 0800 0304 236
  • Asian helpline (volunteers are fluent in Urdu, Gujarti and Hindi) – 0800 0177 416.

Please note, these helplines are only available in the evenings. For further information, see The Bereavement Trust website.

Adult bereavement

The Jolly Dollies

The Jolly Dollies is an organisation for widows of all ages who meet in local groups for social events. Their main purposes are to offer support, provide a means of making new friends and generally allow people to have fun with others who understand them. For further information, see The Jolly Dollies website.

Widowed and Young (WAY)

Way is a national charity for men and women aged 50 or under when their partner died. It offers a peer-to-peer support group fun by a network of volunteers who have been bereaved at a young age themselves. For further information, see the WAY website.

Traumatic bereavement

Support after Murder and Manslaughter (SAMM)

SAMM is a national charity offering support to families bereaved by murder and manslaughter. For further information, call the SAMM helpline on 0121 451 1618 or 0845 872 3440, or see the SAMM website.

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS)

SOBS is a self-help organisation offering a service to bereaved adults (aged 18 and over) in the UK. For further information, call the SOBS helpline on 0300 111 5065, or see the SOBS website.

Bereavement services for children

Child Bereavement UK

Child bereavement UK supports families when a baby or child of any age is dying, or when a child is facing bereavement. For further information, call the Child Bereavement UK helpline on 0800 02 888 40, or see the Child Bereavement UK website.

Hope Again

Hope again is the youth website of Cruse Bereavement Care. It is a safe place where young people who are facing grief can share thier stories with others. For further information, see the Hope Again website.

Winston’s Wish

Winston’s Wish is a UK charity offering practical support and guidance to bereaved children and their families. For further information, call the Winston’s Wish helpline on 08452 03 04 05, or see the Winston’s Wish website.

Loss of a child

Child Death Helpline

The Child Death Helpline is a free-phone service for all those who have been affected by the death of a child. For further information, call the Child Death Helpline on 0800 282 986 or 0808 800 6019 if calling from a mobile, or see the Child Death Helpline website.

The Compassionate Friends

The Compassionate Friends is a charity offering support and care to anybody who has suffered the death of child. For further information, call The Compassionate Friends helpline on 0345 123 2304, or see the Compassionate Friends website.

The Lullaby Trust

The Lullaby Trust provides specialist support for bereaved families, promotes advice on safer baby sleep and raises awareness on sudden infant death. For further information, call The Lullaby Trust bereavement support helpline on 0808 802 6868, or see The Lullaby Trust website.

Miscarriage and Stillbirth

The Miscarriage Association

The Miscarriage Association is a national charity offering support and information to anyone affected by the loss of a baby in pregnancy. For further information, call The Miscarriage Association helpline on 01924 200 799, or see The Miscarriage Association website.

Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (Sands)

Sands is a national charity offering support to anyone who has been affected by the death of a baby before, during or shortly after birth. For further information, call the Sands helpline on 020 7436 5881, or see the Sands website.

Pets

Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support

Anybody who has lost a pet can call the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support helpline on 0800 096 6606, or see the Blue Cross website.

Funerals

Down to Earth

Down to Earth is part of the Quaker Social Action Group and offers practical guidance on finding the most affordable and appropriate funeral. For further information, call the Down to Earth helpline on 020 8983 5055, or see the Down to Earth website.

Practical advice

Bereavement Advice Centre

The Bereavement Advice Centre offer a range of support and advice to people about what to do after somebody dies. This includes advice about probate and legal procedures, registering a death and coroner’s inquests. For further information, call the Bereavement Advice Centre helpline on 0800 634 9494, or see the Bereavement Advice Centre website.