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Coping with Death

This section may be helpful to you if someone you care about has died, someone you care about is terminally il, or someone you care about has had someone close to them die.

When a friend or family member dies it’s hard to deal with. It can feel scary, confusing, lonely and heartbreaking. These reactions are perfectly normal. There’s no right way to grieve, and everyone has different ways of dealing with their feelings.

Some of the things that other young people who lost someone they cared about have experienced are covered in this section. You might or might not experience them. Or you might feel one or all of them in the course of a single day.

Things to remember when learning to live with bereavement: 

  • Although life will be different, you still have your life to live.
  • Everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace.
  • You will need time and space to grieve.
  • Bereavement is painful, stressful and tiring. Ask for help and support when you need it.

Check out the Finding Help for contact details of organisations, websites and help lines that provide information, advice and support.

Am I normal?

A: “Christmas was a disaster this year – you’d think three years on it would be ok, but it wasn’t. I cried nearly every day and I fought with my Mum and sister constantly.” Sarah

There is no set timetable for grief. Each person deals with the death of a loved one at their own pace and in very different ways. There is no specific time period that it will last. Happy and sad memories will be with you throughout your life as you think of the person who has died.

It is not always easy to talk about how you feel. You might find it really hard to talk to someone in your family, especially if that person is upset too. Or perhaps the person who died is the person you would normally talk to and you don’t think that anyone else would understand.

As time passes there will be certain things that will remind you of the death. Some things are obvious like the anniversary of the death or the birthday of the person, while other things may take you by surprise. You might find that when something unrelated upsets you, you find yourself thinking about that person or your sadness. Things like songs or smells or films or even tastes can remind you of the person that died and suddenly you can have memories flooding back and you may feel sad or angry all over again. Don’t worry if that happens, that’s normal too.

After someone has died, it’s ok…
  • To cry and feel sad – you’ve lost a lot, and your life has changed a lot.

  • To feel like you’re raging, and not feel like talking about your feelings. You may feel embarrassed, ‘different’ or that no-one will ‘get it’.

  • To be interested in things that the person who died used to do. Just don’t forget to be you!

  • To daydream and relive memories. However, it may help to think about new things too.

  • To forget for a while.

  • To forgive yourself for any fights you may have had with the person who died, or any harsh things you may have said or done.

  • To feel scared of other people dying or afraid you might die yourself. Teenagers often feel paranoid or fearful after a death, but this won’t last forever.

  • To be upset, angry or not have any feelings at all sometimes. It’s perfectly ok to need to have a good time and feel normal again, to have a laugh and feel happy. It’s also ok to cry, you may find yourself crying when you are sad but also when you are happy.

Most of all, it’s ok to grieve in your own way, whatever that is.

A mess of feelings

A: Sometimes when someone dies we can feel very angry, irritable or moody. Things may now get on your nerves that wouldn’t have before. You might hate the people around you, even in your family, or feel jealous of people who look happy. You might be getting into a lot more trouble at home or in school. You may have people say “What’s got into you?” This can be hard because not only are you feeling bad, but the people around you may not understand what’s really going on either. 

Just remember that this is perfectly normal – not pleasant, but definitely normal. It’s easier to be angry sometimes than to say ‘I’m really sad” or “I’m upset, I just need some space.” Did you ever get so angry that you ended up crying? This is why. Underneath your anger is usually sadness or pain. 

Sometimes you blame yourself. Did you cause the person to die? Was it because of something you thought, did or said? The short answer is no – death has many causes but is never caused by the way you think or behave. However, feeling this can make you angry with yourself and everyone around you. 

Sometimes you feel angry because no-one explained to you what happened. It’s hard to make sense of something as huge as death, even harder when you haven’t been told the facts. Or maybe you feel like the adults around you are not including you in decision-making, that they don’t listen to you or that they dismiss your ideas and feelings because of your age. You may hear things like ”Ah they’re young, they’ll bounce back.” Perhaps they are too wrapped up in their own feelings of loss to really notice yours. It’s natural to feel very angry and rejected when this happen

A: When someone dies it is very normal to have regrets and maybe to think “If only I’d been there”, “If only I hadn’t gone out”, “If only I’d been nicer”. Sometimes when you are alone, especially at night, these thoughts can fill your mind and you can forget the times when you did your best. If this happens, it might help to think of times when you were together having fun, laughing, planning and talking together. Remember that none of us are nice to everyone all the time – that’s not normal! The person who died knew that too.

It’s also common to feel guilty about arguments you had with the person who died, about times when you weren’t there because you were out having fun with your friends, about something you forgot to do or say, or a time when you weren’t as nice as you could have been. Maybe you refused to meet them because you were just too busy.

Sometimes, when a person has been sick for a long time and it has been very stressful, those left behind can feel guilty for feeling a bit relieved that “at least it’s all over now”. Try to remember that having regrets and sometimes feeling guilty are just part of the grieving process. Not one of us is perfect so we all have regrets at some point; that’s normal. 

Be gentle with yourself


“Everything is wrong, it’s all wrong. If my Dad was here it would be ok.” Megan

You may feel muddled about the way everything in your life has changed. Different people may be looking after you; they will do things differently and nothing feels the same, looks the same or even smells the same any more. Confusion can also mean that you suddenly find it hard to do things that came easily before. There may be some times when you feel like laughing or giggling which can be awful if others are sad and everybody else is still thinking about the person who has died.

You may be confused if you find that you are not missing the person who died as much as other people in the family and that can make you feel that you didn’t care. Then suddenly you find that you miss them terribly when everyone else seems to be forgetting. Our feelings can swing like that and even if you feel crazy, you definitely aren’t!

Sometimes all you want is to go out and be with your friends as though nothing has happened. This is natural. If this is how you feel, then do it!


“My heart is broken every single day. Some days I just deny that because it’s too painful.” Orla

Loneliness can be ever-present, or can come and go depending on where you are, who you are with and what you are doing. Generally, there are particular times of the day that are harder than others – maybe it’s dinner time and there is an empty seat at the table; maybe it’s coming home from school to an empty house; maybe it’s not having that person to talk to when you need them any more. The list of lonely situations is probably endless.

One way of dealing with this is to fill your spare time by being with friends, going out to other people’s houses a lot and being with their families. Friends are very important; they can never replace the person who has died but they can help fill some of the lonely times. Finding someone to talk to about the person who has died helps fill this lonely space; trying to pretend that they never existed just makes it worse.

So, whatever your feelings are when someone dies, they’re natural for you at that time, whether they are sadness, numbness, worry, fear, anger, guilt, regret, confusion, loneliness or something else. It can help to talk to someone you like and trust.


My Dad has just moved on and met someone else. He doesn’t give a shit about Mum any more. I’m the only one who does. I thought last year was bad after she died. I had no idea what bad was back then.” Brian

Emotional wounds due to loss require time to heal but they will heal and eventually things will return to something that might feel normal, although certain things may never be the same again.

There is no right and wrong in terms of how you feel and there is no timescale – grief can come and go.

Coping with loss & change

“School is just impossible. I can’t concentrate at all. People think that I should be ok by now, that it’s all over. They forget that it’s only all starting for me now.” Dan

“I have weird feelings if I leave the house for too long – I feel like I’m forgetting things, like forgetting my brother, forgetting what he meant to me.” Fiona

Sometimes things can happen that you might not connect with your grief and they might not even happen straight away after the death.

Things like:

  • Headaches
  • Stomach pains
  • Muscle pains
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feeling exhausted for no obvious reason
  • Losing concentration/getting easily distracted, not being able to follow plots in films and books
  • Not being able to do maths anymore
  • Just feeling ‘different’

The best you can do if any or all of these things happen to you, is to recognise them as just a part of the process of grieving, and then to look after yourself as best as you can. If you are at all worried about yourself, don’t ignore it, talk to an adult you trust, or to your doctor.

There are a few things we may do when we’re grieving that are not so ok though. Here are a few:
  • You may feel like using drugs or alcohol to stop feeling bad. This never works. In the long run it will make things harder and it will take you longer to recover.

  • You may feel like driving dangerously or doing other unsafe things that you would never have considered before.

  • You may feel like skipping school. If you do it’s a good idea to tell a teacher how you feel as, if you really need time off, that can usually be arranged once they understand what’s going on for you. If you don’t feel up to telling them yourself, try to find an adult who’ll speak to your school on your behalf.

  • You may feel like experimenting with sex just to feel close to someone or loved by someone. While the feelings here are perfectly normal, this doesn’t work either. And sometimes it can end up with you feeling even more upset.

  • You may feel you should hide your feelings to protect people around you. But they don’t need protecting, they probably really want to know how you are, even if how you are is awful.

  • You may feel like dropping things you used to be interested in, like sports or dance or whatever you used to enjoy. That’s normal, but it’s a good idea to pick it up again after a while, a few weeks or months or even a couple of years. It might feel weird starting again, but if you enjoyed it before, you probably will again. And you deserve to enjoy things.

When should I get help?

A: Grieving is incredibly exhausting. It often doesn’t leave a lot of energy or motivation for other things. Grieving also affects those parts of the brain that enable us to concentrate well and for prolonged periods of time, and so paying attention to anything – a film, school, a conversation – can be very difficult during different parts of the grieving process.

You might well find that the ability to concentrate comes and goes – one day you might be ok, but the next day you’re all over the place. Or you might be ok for weeks at a time, and then, suddenly, it all gets too hard again. You, and maybe more importantly those around you like teachers or parents, will have to accept that this is a normal part of grieving and that patience and acceptance will be needed while it lasts.

A: It’s a good idea to get extra help if you feel things are getting worse and worse or if you feel that any of these things are getting out of control.

If you feel like killing yourself and have thought seriously about how to commit suicide then it’s really important that you tell someone about this. That can be your parent or a teacher or even your GP.

If you start feeling empty all the time you may be depressed. If you think you might be depressed it is important that you seek help and support.

Everyone else has moved on


“People lie all the time, they say they’re fine but they’re not.” Conor

Everyone deals with their grief differently and everyone’s loss is different too. It might well look like others are moving on, but really, it is not possible to judge just by looking at how someone is behaving outwardly how they might be feeling on the inside.

The best way of knowing where they are at with their grief is to ask. It’s only natural that healing might happen at a different pace for each person.

A: Grief changes over time – what was most painful today might not be as difficult next month or next year. The things that you most miss about your special person are likely to change over time too.

There is absolutely no time limit on grief so don’t rush yourself or let others rush you.

Grieving is not about trying to forget and move on, it’s about trying to remember the person, feeling the pain of their loss, and still learning to live a full life without them.

Coming to terms with someone dying doesn’t mean that we forget that person, or that they stop being important to us.

What will I do about...?

A: There are no hard and fast rules about how to grieve for your loved one. If it gives you some comfort to visit the grave, then do. If it comforts your remaining loved ones to have you there when they like to visit the grave, and if you are genuinely ok with that, then do.

But if it is not what you need to do for yourself at any particular time, then give yourself permission to say no. There are many methods that people use to feel closer to the person who has died. It’s important that you do the things that feel right to you, and you are the only person who knows what those things might be. It may be to go to their favourite place, or somewhere where you used to visit together, or even somewhere they wanted to go but never got a chance. It’s totally up to you.

A: You’re a teenager, that’s not your job. It’s good to show your love and concern for the others in your family who have suffered a loss too, but it does not mean that you now have to become an adult before your time, or a parent to your siblings. If you are worried that an adult is not handling the death very well then you can tell another adult, aunt, uncle or friend about it. There’s no need for you to try to take care of them yourself.

So no, while it can be good to show support to others if you want to, just don’t take it too far.

Remember to look after yourself too


We used to be a very close family and from the outside we probably still look close, but we’re not. We are all grieving alone and in private. We’ve lost each other.” Anne

One of the biggest problems that other people have in dealing with someone who has suffered a bereavement is, ”I just don’t know what to say”. Friends, real friends, will want to help, will want you to talk and they will definitely want to listen. Maybe they feel awkward about bringing it up, and maybe you feel awkward too, but they are probably going to take their cue from you.

Try to think of it the other way around – if it was your best friend who was bereaved, would you want them to take support from you and to talk to you? Would you want to be there for them? Yes? Well then, let them do the same for you. Being close to people who love and care for you is the best way to get through this horrible time. If they look upset or sad while you are talking remember that you are not doing a bad thing and making them sad, they just care about you and are moved by what you’re saying. 

Being close to people who love and care for you is the best way to get through this horrible time.

If you have a friend who isn’t as supportive as you had hoped they would be, it’s important that you find someone else instead to talk to – it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or how you are grieving.

Sometimes it may feel like the people around you are impatient or dismissive of how you feel. They might say things that are hurtful like “You still have your mother” or “You didn’t know her as long as I did”. This does not mean that what you are feeling is wrong – you are entitled to your feelings, even if other people don’t understand. You are entitled to your feelings, even if other people don’t understand.

My friend is grieving

A: Listen – above all, just be there and listen. There is nothing you can say that will change what happened or even make the person feel much better. So don’t feel responsible for that. What’s really helpful is to just be with the person, whatever mood they are in and keep them company in it.

Don’t wait until they ask for help, just trust your gut and do something that you feel will be supportive. Sometimes a little thing like a hug can really make a difference. The grieving person may even become a little more upset or might cry but that’s ok. They were already sad, you didn’t make them sad by hugging them. It helps people to cry, and it will help you to show them that you care.

It’s ok to ask your friend if they want to talk about it, and remember not to take it personally if they don’t. If they become distant or hard to talk to, it will help a lot if you just stick by them.

Different deaths

These following things can happen when there is a death following violence, suicide or accidents that a person has witnessed.

A: Yes and no. When someone you love dies, the pain of their absence is very difficult to cope with, whether you knew it was coming or not.

But there may be some different kinds of feelings and memories about the death itself if a person had some warning that death was imminent, or likely. Knowledge gives us choices, and the knowledge that someone we love is going to die allows us (in theory) to make some decisions about how we might want to deal with that fact. It can allow us time to prepare for the death. It can allow us to have more time with the person, knowing that that time is now limited.

However, being told that our loved one is going to die does not necessarily mean that we will either believe it (particularly when someone is still doing relatively normal, everyday things) or that, even if we do believe it, we will allow ourselves to think about it and ‘face the facts’. We might continue on as normal as a way of coping with the unthinkable. This is very common. Or, we might get very upset and frightened and feel unable to cope.

No matter what we do, or how we deal with the knowledge, it is also very common after someone has died to have regrets or maybe feelings of guilt that we should have done something differently while they were alive. Even when there is a diagnosis of a terminal illness, the death itself can still come as a terrible shock. Death is so final, there is not much that can prepare you for that experience.

When someone dies suddenly, there can be different kinds of memories and feelings to deal with. The enormity of the change from ‘everything’s fine in my life’ to hearing that your loved one has died unexpectedly can be extremely shocking. There can be a lot of feelings of disbelief initially – that it has all been a big mistake and they are going to walk back in the door any minute. Sometimes, the shock can make people feel totally numb. There is nothing wrong with this reaction – it’s just the body’s way of coping with something very scary – but it can make people feel like they didn’t care enough because maybe they weren’t crying when everyone else was.

It is hard enough to deal with your own overwhelming feelings when there is a sudden death, but it is likely that you have to deal with the rest of your family, extended family and possibly friends also. Sometimes, there can be a lot of chaos – people screaming, shouting, crying, phone calls being made, lots of people calling to the house, everyone asking questions – it can be frightening to see the people you trust and rely on to seem so out of control. It’s possible that there will be involvement from the police, the ambulance service, the doctor, the hospital etc.

Your life can seem to have been completely turned upside down in the blink of an eye.

So, yes there can be some differences in the initial stages depending on whether the death was anticipated or was sudden, but no matter how your loved one died, there is still the long and difficult process afterwards of learning to deal with your bereavement and cope with your feelings.

If only...

A: The short answer is ‘nothing’. But when someone close to you dies suddenly, or even if you expected it, you may feel like you never got the chance to really say goodbye to them. This can leave you feeling like there are still things you would like to say to that person. You may find yourself constantly revisiting memories of the last time you saw that person and the last words you said to them.

Some of these memories will be happy ones, but sometimes they may not be. Maybe you had an argument with the person and said things that you didn’t really mean, and you didn’t get the chance to tell them you are sorry. You may feel guilty. Don’t blame yourself for this, you had no way of knowing you would not get the chance to apologise.

When a death is unexpected and sudden, and even when it is not, it’s normal to feel like you want to tell the person one last thing, to say sorry for something, or to say “I love you” for the last time.

A: No two people communicate perfectly all of the time, so it’s likely that you will have some regrets about things you did or didn’t do, or say to your loved one. That is a common response after a bereavement. Sometimes, those regrets fade with time and an understanding that it’s ok to have normal relationships with normal ups and downs.

Other times, the regrets don’t fade and they feel like a burden that we carry with us through every day. When that happens, we need to find creative ways of saying what we need to say to the person who has died.

  • Tying a message to a balloon and letting it fly away

It can be nice to write something down, like a message or a letter, even just a sentence or a word. It can be something you used to say to the person, or something you wish you had said to them but didn’t get a chance to. Some people like to write something and then burn it, or let it float away on water – whatever feels right for you.

  • Creating a memory box

This can be a cardboard box you decorate yourself, or a wooden or plastic box you may want to buy specially. You can put anything you want into it – like photos or the persons favourite music, a piece of their clothing, something with their perfume on it, a ticket stub of something you went to together – anything at all!

  • Writing a letter/poem/song about them, or for them.
  • Planting a tree in their memory
  • Talking to them in your mind

It might sound mad, but it can be nice to chat to the person, in your head or out loud, in your room or at their grave or in your favourite place together.

Some websites let you make pages for the person who died, and some, like Winston’s Wish (more resources on our Finding Help section) have cool stuff like starscapes where you can name a star after the person, and attach pics to the planets that orbit it, or little stories, and then you can visit it whenever you want to. You can visit other peoples’ stars too if they’re not private –it can be nice to see other peoples’ memories and feelings when you’re feeling lonely.

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