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The University of Southampton
Enabling ServicesPart of Student Services

Bereavement

Grief is natural and universal, yet will be experienced by each of us in our own way. You may feel you should be crying but tears won’t come, or that you can’t stop feeling weepy yet you don’t understand why. You might experience conflicting feelings such as sadness, anger, hate, yearning and love all at the same time, feeling as though you can no longer cope. This is usual, but can be frightening and confusing.

As a student, you may find that bereavement disrupts your studies for a while. If you are struggling to cope, you can contact an Enabling Services advisor for an informal chat or to arrange an appointment with a counsellor.

The following feelings and behaviours are common and you may experience some or all of them but not necessarily in any order. They may be felt straight away but they can also occur months or even years later.

  • Shock and disbelief occur even after a long illness when death was expected. It takes time to process the reality that someone has died and how the death affects you.
  • Tearfulness and crying are usual and may be difficult to control. This can happen unexpectedly or in circumstances where you don’t want to show your emotions. It will be difficult to begin with but will lessen as time goes by.
  • Preoccupation with thoughts and images of the person who has died, how they died, or how you will manage without them. This can feel worse at night and you may have trouble sleeping which can lead to exhaustion.
  • Sometimes, people have more unusual experiences, such as hearing the voice of the person who has died, or seeing them. This can be comforting for some, and alarming for others. These experiences usually pass over time.
  • Concentration can lapse and you may struggle to maintain your focus on a subject, with your thinking suddenly interrupted by thoughts of the person who has died. As a student, you may find it difficult to keep up with your work.
  • Anger at being left behind and that the person who died didn’t take you with them. If your bereavement is following suicide, you may feel anger that the person didn’t take care of themselves or think of you and your feelings, or that they have abandoned you.
  • Guilt and regret are very common, because with hindsight the past seems very clear and simple. It is easy to become judgemental, focusing on what you could or should have done before they died rather than remembering the difficulties along the way. Guilt is usual after a suicide, particularly ‘survivor guilt’ when it may not seem right that you are still alive and they are not.
  • Envy of others who appear happy and who still have their family and friends.
  • Withdrawal from social events is normal, but so too are seeing friends and carrying on with activities and studies. Some people find that focusing on work and everyday life can help them through this difficult time.
  • You may find that you are more irritable with friends, tutors or strangers, and worry because this is unusual for you. But this is normal.
  • Loneliness and yearning for the person who has died can feel intense. You may feel empty and unable to imagine the feeling ever going away. It’s not uncommon to feel as though it’s not worth carrying on or you want to be with the person who has died.
  • Depression can occur and your mood can go up and down from day to day or hour to hour. Sadness and withdrawal are usual and normal because it is a reaction to the death. You may want to visit our web page about depression.
  • Relief is common, although it can be difficult to accept because you may feel that you are betraying the person who has died or that you didn’t care for them or love them enough.

These feelings will gradually become less painful in time and less intrusive. Slowly you will be able to think about the person who has died for longer periods without feeling upset, and gradually you will become less preoccupied and able to look forward to social events and activities in your own life.

Seek help from people who can support you such as friends, family, tutors, or an Enabling Services advisor. You can also talk to your GP who will be able to listen to you and understand.

Talking and being with others may help you process what has happened and how it has affected you, but you may find that sometimes you don’t want to talk and that it doesn’t help. Do what you want to do, but remember that there are people there who want to listen.

Trust your own feelings and do what seems natural to you. There is no expected way to feel and behave. You may want to be with friends and laugh as well as spend some time on your own.

Playing music can be soothing and comforting, especially listening to favourites or music that reminds you of the person who has died.

Taking showers and baths can help reduce irritability, reduce stress and encourage sleep. Healthy eating and drinking are important because grief can be exhausting and deplete your energy. Avoid excessive caffeine, drinking and smoking.

Taking exercise and playing sport may help you focus and feel less preoccupied with grief. It can help you feel as though there is some normality in your life.

Looking ahead

The first year is usually the most difficult because there will be missed anniversaries and new events that the person who has died can’t share with you. Try to plan what you will do for anniversaries so the days have structure and you can mark them as special.

Try not to make life changes such as leaving university or moving away, for at least a year. Change is easy to rationalise when the feelings are very painful but, as they lessen later, you may regret any hasty decisions.

Gradually you will be able to think of the person without painful feelings flooding you and you will be able to enjoy yourself again. This doesn’t mean that you are betraying or forgetting the person who has died or that you love or care for them any less, but it does mean that you are beginning to look ahead in your own life. Usually there are times in the future, months or years later, when you occasionally feel strong pangs of feelings which come out of the blue. Try not to be alarmed because this is normal in bereavement.

Things you can do to help someone else

Listen if they want to talk but try not to ask direct questions especially if the death has been sudden. If they want to talk, ask about memories and plans.

Try not to worry about "saying the right thing" or tying yourself up in knots. Be as genuine as you can in your own words. Often we can’t find the words we want to say and this is understandable – tell them you don’t have the words but you want to be there for support.

Accept that they will be feeling tearful and try not to feel embarrassed. Wait until the tears are over and then say what you want to say.

Patience on your part will help. You may find yourself thinking that enough time has elapsed after the death and that the bereaved person "should be over it by now", but try to remember that everyone takes their own time and grieves in their own way – and this is their way.

Cook, pick up take-aways and prepare drinks, as they are likely to feel too tired to do these things themselves. Taking on practical tasks like the washing and shopping can ease the stress of bereavement.

Try not to take it personally if they are irritable or snappy. It’s unlikely to be you they are cross with but the sad situation they now find themselves in, which they can’t control.

Do activities that suit them. What bereaved people want to do will depend on how they feel at the time – try to be patient if they want to be with you one moment but change their mind the next.

If someone’s behaviour concerns you, contact us.

CRUSE Bereavement Care

Provides face-to-face, telephone and email and website support.

Tel: 0844 477 9400

Email: helpline@cruse.org.uk

RD4U

An offshoot of CRUSE for the 16 to 25 year old age group.

Tel: 023 8023 2500 (South Hampshire Branch)

Tel: 0844 4777 9400 (National Helpline)

Tel: 0808 808 1677 (Freephone Helpline)

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