Are you finding yourself struggling with your feelings when someone dies? Don’t know exactly what you’re supposed to be feeling? Many people struggle with processing the death of someone they know, even when they weren’t that close to begin with.
There are so many feelings and emotions that get stirred up when you get the news of someone’s death. It’s not unusual to experience feelings associated with grief even when you’ve never met the person who died, such as public figures or celebrities.
Some of the feelings you have when someone dies are associated with grief reactions. They are commonly referred to as the stages of grief. It’s not all grief, however, as you may experience other feelings that may catch you by surprise.
1. Shock and Disbelief
Whenever you hear the news of someone’s death, whether you knew them personally or not, a natural reaction is that of shock and disbelief. This is especially true if the person was young, good looking, rich, or famous.
Somehow some people’s mindsets are programmed to think that certain people are immune to death and tragedy. When a famous or well-known person dies, it’s difficult to believe and accept the news.
This is also true of people who we know and love. It can be shocking to hear the news of a young person or an extraordinarily beautiful one dying. Your mind is not ready to accept that this person died, and it can leave you feeling disoriented. It usually takes several hours to days for the news to sink in and to accept their death.
Feelings of sadness and sorrow are part of being bereaved. You can expect to feel this way for several weeks or months after suffering the loss of a loved one or other significant death. It’s normal to be consumed with grief the closer you were to the person who died. Others around you who’ve experienced this same loss may also be feeling sorrowful.
During this time, you’ll need extra emotional support to help you process your feelings. You can look to your friends and family to help support each other through your grief. If you don’t know how to console someone who’s grieving, consider reading books on grief to help you with learning what to say. It’s also important knowing what not to say.
When sadness is prolonged and left untreated, it’s easy for it to turn into a chronic sadness leading to depression. Consider seeking outside help for any symptoms of prolonged sadness or depression.
Anger often manifests as a part of your grief and bereavement. There are many reasons why you might be feeling angry. You might be angry at yourself for not doing more to help the person who died. Or, alternatively, your anger may be geared toward the person who died for various reasons.
Explore the cause of your anger to figure out why you’re feeling this way. Take affirmative steps to make amends with yourself and with others. For example, if your anger centers around the person who died, but is tied to others who are still living, make amends by offering a sincere apology or talking things out with them.
Following the feeling of anger in the natural progression of the grief cycle is the feeling of bargaining.
Bargaining is an attempt to gain control of or negotiate through your loss. It’s a reaction to the helplessness and vulnerability that follows loss.
A person who attempts to bargain or negotiate their way out of their grief and loss is only reacting to their grief in a natural and normal way. It’s an attempt to change the outcome of the tragedy by explaining away the things they could’ve or should’ve done differently. When they realize that no amount of supplication changes the end result, most persons who are grieving will experience depression to some degree.
The grief process doesn’t always follow the same trajectory for everyone. Some people won’t ever experience some or any of these reactions to grief. For those who do, depression can be a debilitating part of grieving. Many who experience depression will find it difficult to function in their daily lives for a few days or weeks following the death of a loved one.
When dealing with depression, it’s important to talk to your support group so that they understand what you’re going through. Allow yourself to grieve, but also stay aware of the dangers of letting depression go untreated.
Grief-related depression is real and can affect almost anyone unexpectedly. Bereavement is a major stressor that causes sadness and grief-related depression. Major depression is typically characterized by its pervasiveness, as well as having difficulty experiencing self-validating and positive feelings. When left untreated, it tends to prolong pain and suffering related to grief.
Other symptoms of major depression include:
- Low mood
- Mood swings
- Reduced social functioning
Feelings of acceptance after the death of someone you know can occur immediately after their death. Sometimes, it can take several weeks or months of experiencing other feelings associated with grief before finally accepting their death. It can be difficult to accept the death of someone you love, especially when it occurs suddenly and unexpectedly.
Some people who experience the death of a close loved one whom they cared for on a daily basis may find that they begin to feel acceptance more quickly than others. Oftentimes, they have already witnessed the gradual (or sudden) decline in their health, giving them time to anticipate their death.
Others may cycle through the stages of grief until they reach a point of accepting that their loved one has died, and they must find a way to move forward in life. Both of these methods of achieving acceptance are valid and one is not more so than the other.
Admitting that you feel relieved after the death of a loved one can be a difficult thing to do. Most people will never share these thoughts with anyone and keep them buried inside. This feeling isn’t uncommon especially after witnessing a long, slow decline in the health of a loved one with a prolonged illness.
Feeling relief is nothing to be ashamed of. Experiencing this feeling doesn’t mean that you wanted the person to die, or that you didn’t love them enough or in the right way.
Some of the different reasons why people feel relief after someone they know dies are the following, especially if the person:
- Suffered a long illness or were in pain
- Was struggling with addiction
- Suffered from mental illness
- Was physically or emotionally abusive
- No longer wanted to live
Feelings of intense guilt over the death of a loved one usually occur as a result of thinking that they were somehow responsible for the death. These feelings are difficult to overcome at first, but with counseling, you’ll be able to see things differently in time.
Self-blame occurs more often in cases of preventable accidents such as drownings, automobile accidents where the driver was at fault, and negligence in overseeing a child’s care.
Feeling regret, like guilt, after the death of someone you love may leave you with feelings of self-blame, anger, sadness, and that it was somehow your fault that they died. You may find yourself going over all the things you could have or should’ve done differently.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to reverse the clock. The best that you can do now is focus on all of the positive aspects of their life and your relationship with them.
When dealing with regret after someone dies, you can gain closure by making a list of all of the regrets that you have, acknowledging them, and releasing them. Letting go of regrets allows you to move forward with your life focusing on the future instead of the things you can’t change.
Things that can help release regrets:
- Writing a letter to the deceased person telling them all the things you wished you would’ve said before they died. Consider keeping it in a special place or burying it somewhere. Some grief rituals call for the burning of the letter and releasing it into the universe.
- Talking to someone about your feelings to gain a different perspective. You may need or want to seek grief counseling or therapy to help you process your grief.
- Learning to forgive yourself for past mistakes. Harboring negative feelings and resentment is unhealthy and may lead to complications in your grief journey.
Experiencing mental confusion after someone dies is also a normal part of the grieving process. Some people develop a mental fog for several weeks following a significant death. Loss is confusing, especially when it happens suddenly and unexpectedly.
Some ways in which you may experience confusion are not knowing:
- How it happened
- Why it happened to the person who died
- How to think and feel about their death
- How to deal with your grief
- What to do next
Mixed Feelings When Someone Dies
Grief affects everyone in different ways. There’s no particular way that you should be feeling and there’s no timeline in which to express grief.
Some days you’ll feel better than others. When your grief leads to feelings of overwhelm and confusion after the death of a loved one, it’s okay to take a step back to process your feelings.
- Zisook, Sidney, and Katherine Shear. “Grief and bereavement: what psychiatrists need to know.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, World Psychiatry, June 2009, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2691160.