Immediate emotions after someone has died
When someone close to you dies, you might experience a variety of emotions, including shock, disbelief, numbness, sadness, anger or loneliness. It may seem like everything has been turned upside down. Everyone reacts to loss differently, and it’s normal to experience many emotions. This is all part of a grieving process. During this time, it is important to take care of yourself.
Shock and disbelief
It’s normal to feel a sense of shock when someone close to you dies. You might experience shock through physical and emotional reactions. You may feel dizzy, nauseous, dazed, numb or empty. As part of feeling shocked, you may not believe that the news is real.
Shock may cause some people to react in an unusual way when they first hear the news of a death. For example, some people laugh hysterically. This is often a result of the shock, and not necessarily because the person finds the situation funny. Shock is different for everyone and may last for a couple of days or weeks.
At this point, you may want to see talk to a counselor or another mental health professional to help you process what's happened. View types of professional support here.
Shock may also mean that you feel nothing when you hear of the loss. As a way of coping with the news of a loss your feelings may become numb. This may mean you feel like you are dreaming, or the event seems unreal. Sometimes this can make it hard to cry or feel any sort of sadness. Over time you are likely to start feeling other emotions.
As the shock and numbness lessens, you’ll probably start grieving. Everybody grieves differently and unique factors may affect the way you cope. Remember, if someone’s reaction is different to yours, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this person cares less than you do. Knowing the factors that affect grieving can help you understand your reaction (and others’ reactions) to loss. Some reasons why people grieve differently may be:
- The person’s relationship with the person who has died.
- Other losses they have experienced that might be resurfacing with the new loss.
- Gender. Men and women have different ways of managing their grief. Men are more likely to feel restrained and might feel the need to show that they are in control of their feelings. They are also more likely to be physically active in their grief. It isn’t uncommon for men to sort out practical problems or focus on small tasks while grieving. Meanwhile, women are more likely to want to share their feelings with others. This may mean they talk about what is happening or cry more openly than men.
- Cultural background. Cultural groups express grief in different ways. The rituals, ceremonies and rules around what is considered respectful mourning may vary depending on your cultural background. Crying and showing lots of emotion in public does not necessarily mean that someone isn’t coping well with grief; instead it may be a way of managing grief.
- Age. Children of different ages understand death differently. Younger children may not understand that a person who has died isn’t coming back. Older children, on the other hand, understand that the person isn’t coming back, but may not understand why.
Here are some of other changes you might experience when grieving:
- Physical, like headaches, fatigue, achy muscles and nausea;
- Emotional, including sadness, anger, disbelief, despair, guilt and loneliness;
- Mental, for example, forgetfulness, lack of concentration, confusion and poor memory;
- Behavioral, like changes in your sleeping patterns or appetite, having dreams or nightmares or unusual emotional reactions, lacking interest in hanging out with friends, and crying;
- Social, you may avoid friends, or they might avoid you because they don’t know what to say or how to help;
- Spiritual, your beliefs might be challenged.
Everybody should be able to grieve in their own way and time. Sometimes you might feel pressure to be strong for family or friends. It’s important to be supportive of others, but you shouldn’t feel like you have to bottle up what you feel. For more information about the stages of grief, check out the Experiencing Grief fact sheet.
Unexpected feelings and reactions
It isn’t unusual for events in your everyday routine to trigger a strong emotional reaction, because different events can be reminders that your friend or loved one is no longer with you. You might be reminded by setting the table for a family meal, or listening to the words of a song. Over time, these reactions may not be as regular or as painful.
While you’re grieving, it’s important to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your grief, it might be helpful to talk with a friend or relative about it. You might also want to see a counselor or therapist. If you need immediate help, you can also call the and feel your grief is overwhelming, you can also call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or youth helpline Your Life Your Voice at 1-800-448-3000.
The National Institute on Aging, “Things to Do After Someone Dies”
Educational Communications Board , “When Someone Dies: Bereavement and Loss”
Some of the information is adapted from the book After Suicide, Help For The Bereaved, by Sheila Clark. Published in 1995 by Hill of Content Publishing Company Pty Ltd, Melbourne 3000.
Last revised: Feb, 2014