How to cope with the death of a loved one

Last reviewed on 8 September 2021

Losing a family member, a friend or someone else you care about can be really painful. You might feel upset, confused, scared, lonely or numb. If you’ve lost a parent or carer, you probably have lots of practical concerns and might be worried about who will look after you.

If it was a sudden death, you might feel shocked, angry and perhaps even guilty that you couldn’t say goodbye properly. And if it has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, you might find it particularly difficult because certain practices and traditions, such as funerals and wakes, that can help with the grieving process might not be possible.

Please remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel when someone dies – everyone deals with grief differently. To help you cope with your feelings and find a way through this, Good Thinking has put together these tips. You might also find the free Apart of Me app useful as it helps you to explore, accept, understand and articulate your experience of grief and the wide range of emotions connected to it.

If you’d like to help a relative or friend who has lost a loved one, take a look at our advice on supporting other people.

Make sure you keep communicating with your family and friends – tell them how you feel, share memories of your loved one and don’t be afraid to ask any questions you might have. Even if they are grieving too, they’ll want to support you and they’ll probably appreciate being able to confide in you too.

You could also reach out to a teacher, your GP or another adult you trust. If you’d prefer to speak to someone anonymously, there are lots of specialist bereavement helplines you can call, text, email or chat with online. If you’re feeling completely overwhelmed and think you might harm yourself or someone else, please call your local NHS 24/7 mental health helpline. If you need immediate medical attention, call 999.

Find contact details for London’s NHS 24/7 helplines and other support organisations in our urgent support article.

The time immediately after someone has died can be particularly distressing and the COVID-19 restrictions could make it even harder. In the weeks and months that follow, you can expect to go through various stages of grief, including:

  1. Denial (e.g. “This isn’t happening to me”, “It can’t be true”)
  2. Anger: (e.g. “How could they abandon me?”, “Why couldn’t the doctors save them?”)
  3. Bargaining: (e.g. “It’s my fault...”, “Maybe they will come back if I...”)
  4. Depression: (e.g. “I don’t feel like doing anything”, “I’m not hungry”, “I can’t sleep”)
  5. Acceptance: (e.g. “They died but I’m going to be OK”, “I have to get on with my own life”)

You’ll probably find that you go in and out of these different stages over time and that certain feelings return on special dates, such as birthdays and anniversaries.

Grief Encounter, The Mix and YoungMinds provide lots more advice to help you cope with grief, including stories by other young people who have lost a loved one.

As well as talking to your family and friends about how you feel, it can be helpful to express yourself in other ways. Could you write a letter, a poem or a song? Make a photo album, a memory box or a playlist? Cuddle your pets or draw a picture?

The main thing to remember is that you don’t have to put on a brave face – it’s OK to feel sad, angry and to cry. It’s also OK to smile and laugh when you’re remembering your loved one and it’s OK to have fun with your friends again.

Read our tips about dealing with anger and stress.

It can be easy to forget to look after yourself when you’re grieving. Try to eat healthily even if you don’t feel hungry. Stick to your normal routine if you can and try to get enough sleep. Do some light exercise, even if you feel exhausted.

Try to do something each day that makes you feel good, whether that’s walking your dog, watching a funny film or calling a friend for a chat. If you’re finding it hard to concentrate on your schoolwork or other things, break it down into small chunks. And try to avoid using alcohol, drugs or other unhealthy habits to block out the pain.

Find out more about getting a better night’s sleep and eating healthily.

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