Bereavement: Next Steps
We are so sorry for the loss of your loved one and regret meeting you in such unfortunate
circumstances. Leaving the hospital can be overwhelming and painful. We hope to help you as
you take this first step in your grief process. We wrote this booklet to give you some basic
information that may be helpful to you, either now or in the coming months.
We urge you to find support to help you cope. Our thoughts are with you, your family and friends.
We wish you strength and peace in your lives.
“Mourning is love with no place to go.” – Anonymous
After the death of a loved one, grief tends to be public. Family and friends often come together in
this time. Mourning happens as a group through sharing stories at memorial services, or through
family bringing food and messages of love to your home.
As this part comes to an end, the reality of your loss often starts to sink in. It is normal to feel
distracted during this time. You may find it takes a few days or weeks to begin feeling the deep
loss. As others go back to their daily lives, you may feel stuck in this transition.
It is common to feel confused or scared following the death of your loved one. For some time
after the death, you may notice a sense of numbness. In a way, this protects your mind until you
are able to cope. Often you are thrown back into your normal routines and not able to focus on the
loss. Each day the sun still rises. The world goes on, but you may not feel ready yet. This can be
an upsetting time because of how quickly everything is changing.
Emotions of grief
“There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more
eloquently than 10,000 tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep
contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving
There is no right way to grieve. While grief is associated with sadness and tears, you may not
react to the death of a loved one in this way. You might feel overwhelmed and lonely in your
thoughts. Try to be kind to yourself in this process of letting go.
People cope in different ways. You might notice this in your own family. One person may be
stoic, while another is emotional. Others act as though everything is normal. Respect your loved
ones’ ways of grieving, even if you do not understand them, and ask them to respect yours.
You may feel afraid to show emotions. If you feel this way, ask yourself why. Some people feel
they need to be strong for their children and other loved ones. What would be the worst thing that
could happen if you started crying in front of your loved ones? You may be surprised at the relief
it could bring for you and for them.
Allow yourself to feel exactly how you feel. Let your emotions and thoughts come naturally.
When they come with ease, you can deal with them. If you keep your grief inside, the weight you
carry will be greater than the grief alone.
Certain parts of your life are now different. Watch for big changes. You may find yourself
withdrawing from family and friends, or having problems at work. You might feel a negative
feeling that you can’t escape.
These changes do not happen overnight. The hardest part of this process may be to notice these
subtle changes. If others hint at your changing behaviors, try to be open to their concerns and
take an honest look at how you feel.
You are in mourning. The pain you feel for weeks, months, or years is because you have lost
someone you love, not because you aren’t coping.
Finding your way
Grief is a normal feeling that can help you to accept yourself. Being open to your feelings during
this time may be hard, but try to see it as a first step in starting to heal. Find a way to heal that fits
You may find it helpful to talk about your feelings. This can be with a close friend, clergyperson,
or a counselor. While family and friends can be helpful, they may be dealing with their own grief.
Although therapy is not for everyone, professional counselors can offer you a fresh look at the
situation. You may be surprised at how easy it is to talk with someone who lets you be completely
honest without judgment. You might choose to start therapy right away, or wait for some time to
pass. See what works for you. If you try therapy and it feels too early, you can wait and try again
It is not necessary to talk about your feelings in order to grieve. You might choose to keep your
personal emotions private. Try writing down your thoughts and feelings on paper. Seeing your
thoughts in front of you helps to separate your feelings from who you are. Your feelings of
sadness or frustration are only one part of you.
The power of connection
You may wonder if anyone else has ever had the same worries and feelings. Joining a support
group lets you meet people who have felt similar grief. You might find your thoughts and
feelings are acknowledged and understood. No one has felt exactly how you feel, but when you
realize you are not alone, suddenly your mind is not such a mystery.
It takes time to understand what your loss means to you. Maybe your emotions do not make
sense. Other people farther along in the grief process may have ideas to share about how to put
confusing feelings into words. You might feel relieved to know that as strange as your feelings
may seem, they are shared by others.
Grief over time
“In a very real sense, grief is the tax we pay for loving people.” – Thomas Lynch
Months down the road, if you are asking yourself, “Why haven’t I healed yet?” remember the
grieving process can be slow. There will be good and bad times along the way. Some days may
just be a dull ache and others hit you with the same raw loss you felt on that first day.
Let those painful times be a message. Be kind to yourself on those days. Spend time outside to
relax and find peace, or visit a friend who listens to you.
The pain from this death may never fully go away. Over time you will find ways to transform
the pain you feel into acceptance. Your life may never be the same, but you may be able to see
your loss in a new way. Your loved one was important to you. Instead of not feeling affected by
this loss, your pain shows you how dearly you held this person to your heart.
Keep it simple
It is natural to worry about what comes next. You may want to return to your old life where it
doesn’t hurt and you don’t feel the loss. It is hard work to process and accept the loss, and move
Stay in the moment. Focus on the day in front of you rather than letting your mind wander to the
challenges that lie in the future.
Be good and fair to yourself.
Hold onto hope and trust that things will get better.
Here is a list of resources in the community. These are just some of many groups that exist to help
you through losing a loved one. More support can be found in hospitals, hospice centers, funeral
homes, or spiritual establishments. We urge you to find guidance that fits your needs.
United Way 2-1-1
This resource line provides free support and information 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
Call 2-1-1 within Dane County or 608-246-4357 outside of Dane County.
Agrace Hospice Care
This Madison facility offers help to the public through support groups and individual counseling
sessions - all free of charge. For information call 608-276-4660 or visit:
Northern Illinois Hospice and Grief Center
Located in Rockford, Illinois, this grief center is available to the public and offers support groups
for varying ages and individual/family counseling, all provided on a sliding fee scale. With
questions, call 815-398-0500, http://www.northernillinoishospice.org/griefCenter.htm
The Compassionate Friends
This national organization provides grief support to families who have experienced the loss of a
child, at any age and from any cause. Nearby chapters are located in Monona, Wausau, Green
Bay, Dubuque, Chicago, and others. Most chapters hold monthly meetings. For further questions,
call the Madison chapter at 608-258-0014, http://www.compassionatefriends.org/home.aspx.
Kids Can Cope
Based out of Madison’s St. Mary’s Hospital, this program provides support to children faced with
intense grieving and coping. For more information, call Peggy Weber at 608-258-6336
Widows/Widowers Social Group
Through Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, this social group meets once a month. The church also
offers free grief counseling classes periodically through the year. To learn more, call 608-271-
Parents of Murdered Children
This national organization provides supportive services for family and friends of homicide
victims. Wisconsin chapters hold monthly meetings and are located in Milwaukee and Madison.
For questions, call Bill Swanson at 608-821-0050 or visit their website at
http://www.pomc.com/cw/index.html. The national website is http://www.pomc.org
Wisconsin Survivors of Suicide Support Group
This group offers help for survivors of suicide. Support groups are located in many cities state-
wide including Madison, Appleton, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Beloit, and others. For a complete list
of cities and more information on specific sites, visit their website at http://www.hopes-
wi.org/WISurvivorGroups.htm with questions about the Madison group, call 608-280-2435
American Association of Suicidology
This is a national organization that offers support to survivors of suicide. For recommended
support books, personal stories, and information on grief specific to suicide, visit their website at
“I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at
length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each
other. Then someone at my side says, "There, she is gone."
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she
left my side, and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port. Her
diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says,
"There, she is gone!" there are other eyes watching her coming, and there are other voices ready
to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!" And that is dying.” -Henry van Dyke
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your
care. If so, please use it and call if you have any questions. If this
information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your
doctor. This is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or
treatment of any medical condition. Because each person’s health needs are
different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team
when using this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911.
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All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7363.