What happens to us when we lose someone close?

We all experience loss at some time in our lives, but it can affect us in different ways and at different times. Most people would consider it entirely normal to be upset immediately after the event, but we are soon expected to ‘just move on’ or ‘bounce back’. When someone dies – whether it was expected or not – it is often very difficult to take in at the time. It may be that we are not affected immediately after the event, but that it hits us much later on. This can be especially hard if it seems like everyone else has already put it behind them.  

But here’s the important thing to remember: we are all individuals and there is no right or wrong way to deal with loss. Loss isn’t just about when a person close to us dies – it is also the feeling we have when we lose a much-loved pet, when a friendship or relationship comes to an end, or when we move schools and leave our old friends behind. Even the death of a celebrity who meant a lot to us can affect us with this feeling.

The way we experience loss and how it makes us feel can be unpredictable.  We might have days where we feel fine, and other days where the grief is much stronger – it may come and go. People often associate grief with feeling sad or tearful, especially in the early moments. But we can also feel anger and guilt. For instance, we can feel anger at the fact the person was taken from us and we don’t have anyone to blame, or we might read a post online about the person which we feel is unfair or untrue. We can feel guilty if a close one has died while we are still alive, or if we believe we could have done more or been nicer to them. We may also feel numb or depressed if it is simply too much for us to take in. Alternatively, we might even feel relieved if a loved one has been ill for a long time, and they are now no longer suffering. Experiencing all of these different emotions can make us feel overwhelmed and confused.

Sometimes we might not even notice that our loss is affecting us. It may be that we have started getting into trouble at school for not paying attention in lessons, or for behaving out of character. Our friends or family members may have commented on us being ‘irritable’ or ‘snappy’. Our grades may have started slipping or we may have taken a lot of time off school. We are no longer enjoying the things that used to make us happy. Grieving is physically and emotionally exhausting, leaving us feeling very tired, but we may find it hard to sleep or have frequent dreams about the person we have lost.

All of these experiences are completely normal, and most people are able to deal with loss through the help of family and friends. However, if you don’t have anyone to talk to, or if things aren’t getting better, it can be good to talk to your doctor about it. You can talk to your doctor about anything that affects you physically or emotionally.

What can we do when we are affected by loss?

There are lots of things we can do to help ourselves when we lose someone. As we have individual preferences we might need to try out a few different things until we find out what works best for us.

Talking helps
One of the most helpful things we can do is talk to someone about how we are feeling. This gives us the chance to share with someone what we are experiencing, which can prevent us from feeling alone or isolated. It can also help us to recognise that what we are feeling is normal and that things will get better.

There are many different people we can choose to talk to when we need support. It could be our immediate family; our parents, brothers or sisters. It could be our aunts, uncles or grandparents. We may have a friend who we feel we can confide in. Equally, we might prefer to speak to someone who is outside of our family or friendship group. This could be a teacher or other staff member at school. Some schools have a school counsellor or may be able to arrange for you to see a counsellor outside of school. The important thing is that you feel this person is not going to judge you and will listen and support you.

There are also many organisations you can reach out to for support. These charities offer a non-judgemental ear to listen to your feelings and help deal with their effects. Here are some organisations which can offer you additional support:

Be kind to yourself
It is also important for us to be kind to ourselves when we are finding things difficult – this includes eating well and getting plenty of rest. Imagine how you would treat a friend who needed support and treat yourself in the same way. You might also ask yourself what the person you have lost would be saying to you now: what might they be saying or doing to make you feel better?

Physical exercise
If you enjoy sport or other physical activities, exercise can be really helpful, especially if you are feeling angry or frustrated. Physical exercise releases endorphins, and these hormones can lift our mood and help us to cope better.

Other activities

Not all of us feel ready to talk about our feelings, especially when we are trying to process things or if we are feeling confused.  

Here are some things you can do to help you process your loss:

  • write about how you feel in a diary or journal
  • write a letter or card to the person you have lost
  • draw or paint a picture to express how you feel
  • draw the story of your loss by dividing a piece of paper into four squares and labelling them ‘before, during, now and future.’ It can help you make sense of the loss
  • create memory jars using written memories or different coloured sand or salt to represent different memories

Instructions for making a memory jar:

Written memory Jar

  1. Find a transparent jar: you can use one you already have or buy one you like the look of
  2. Keep your jar in view: this will remind you to fill it
  3. Begin to fill your jar: use small pieces of plain paper, coloured paper or sticky notes to write memories of the person you have lost. You can roll up each piece of paper to make it look like a scroll, tying it with a piece of string. The memories can be of anything – no matter how big or small – it might be a memory of a holiday you took together, or their favourite food. Take time to add to the jar whenever you have a new memory.
  4. Read your memories: choose a special day, for instance a birthday, anniversary, New Year or Christmas, and take time to read the memories you have collected in your jar.

Salt and Chalk Memory Jar:

  1. You will need a transparent jar with a lid, fine salt, five different coloured chalks and pens and six sheets of paper
  2. Fill the jar with salt
  3. Write five or six things that you remember about the person who has died on a separate piece of paper that you will keep
  4. Draw a dot of colour next to each memory (for example: yellow for their favourite sport, pink for their favourite music or song)
  5. Spread out the other five sheets of paper and split the salt from the jar between them
  6. Colour each pile of salt by rubbing one of the chalk pieces into the salt
  7. Pour each pile of salt into the jar one at a time to create colourful layers
  8. If there is any space at the top of the jar fil it with plain salt to stop the layers from getting mixed up
  9. Keep your jar where you will see it often, don’t forget to keep your memory sheet safe so you can remember and also to show to friends and family

Important things to remember!

  • We are all individual and things can affect us in different ways and at different times
  • Things will get better over time
  • There is no right or wrong way to deal with loss – it is about what personally works best for you
  • Look after yourself
  • Talk to someone you feel you can trust and who will understand
  • Be kind to yourself! Treat yourself in the same way that you would treat a friend who is dealing with loss

If you live in Gloucestershire and are aged 9-21, you can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. TIC+ works hard at raising funds so they can arrange for a counsellor to see you for free, all you need to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to arrange an appointment. We know it can be hard to take that first step but, like the other young people we’ve helped, you’ll be so glad you did.

If you need to speak to someone urgently, call Childline on 0800 1111, NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.

For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!