9. Feelings after the person has died
Everyone reacts and copes with bereavement in their own personal way. Many people will go through this without needing professional bereavement support.
How you feel after the person has died may be affected by different things, including:
- your relationship with the person
- your situation and personality
- how you've responded to changes while you've been caring for the person
- how much you've already grieved while the person was living with dementia
- the situation - whether you said or did the things you wanted to
- the circumstances surrounding the person's death.
When the person dies, this may feel like the final loss of many, and can also represent a turning point in your life, especially if you have been the person's main carer. You may feel a range of emotions after bereavement, some of which may even be positive. Feelings can include:
- shock and pain (even if the death has been expected for a while)
- anger and resentment about what has happened
- guilt about how the person was cared for
- emptiness or numbness, as though feelings are frozen
- being unable to accept the situation
- lack of purpose
- relief, both for the person with dementia and for yourself.
Sometimes when a person dies, their carer may not fully grieve at first, and it can take a long time for feelings to come out. This is called delayed grief. It may happen because:
- it takes a while to accept the person has died
- the feelings are overwhelming and you aren't able to deal with them at the time
- there are so many practical things to do and arrange that there isn't time to grieve.
Delayed grief may especially happen if you have cared for the person for a long time.
Some carers may feel a sense of emptiness after bereavement. This can be for different reasons, including struggling to come to terms with the loss of the person, missing their defined role as a carer, feeling like they have too much free time (especially if they've lost past interests and hobbies), and not having been in touch with other people while caring. All of this can add to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Some people find it hard to adjust to living without the person. It can help to talk through these feelings with someone you trust.
Even though you may generally be coping, there may still be times when you feel especially sad or upset. Try to find ways to express and explore your emotions after bereavement. Some carers find it helpful to meet with professionals who were involved with the person's care at least once after bereavement.
Tips for when the person dies
- Try to avoid making any big decisions in the early months, such as moving house or taking on extra responsibilities, if you're still feeling shocked or vulnerable.
- Take some time to reflect and come to terms with your situation, but try not to become isolated.
- It's not unusual to think you have heard the person's voice or seen the person after they have died and while you're grieving.
- Keeping hold of items that the person treasured or that remind you of them (such as a watch or a favourite scarf) may help you to keep a sense of connection to them.
- If you find events such as anniversaries or birthdays upsetting, ask for help from supportive friends or family members.
- Look after your spiritual needs. Many people find practising their spiritual beliefs (for example through meditation, prayer or singing) helpful after a bereavement.
- Stay in touch with your GP. After bereavement you may be more vulnerable to physical and psychological illness such as viruses, anxiety, stress and depression.
- If you feel your grief is becoming overwhelming, look for bereavement support services.