Intensive care: experiences of family & friends

Coping with bereavement

Everyone grieves and deals with bereavement in different ways and most people feel many different emotions at various times and stages, including anger, guilt, sadness and despair. Some people described how difficult they'd found it at the beginning, when their relative had first died, and how important it had been to have lots of support at a time when they'd felt shocked, numb or depressed. A few people explained how they'd sometimes felt guilty and wondered if there'd been anything they could have done differently.

One woman, who'd never been close to her sister-in-law, wished she'd known her better when she'd been alive. One man regretted that his young children wouldn't get to know his father, who'd died at the age of 83. His spiritual views had helped him accept what had happened, and to deal with critical illness and death on a regular basis in his job as an ICU consultant. 

Bereavement is a difficult time and some people said it had helped talking to friends and family or to people outside the family. A few people said that some of their relatives or partners had found it difficult to talk about the person's death and they'd hardly ever mentioned it. One woman said she'd benefited enormously from seeing a counsellor at the hospital, who she could talk to about her feelings and who could help her move on, even though she would never forget what had happened, or her husband. There are many organisations that help people cope with loss and bereavement. Some people recommended contacting these organisations or talking to others who'd been through something similar.

Some people confirmed that time was indeed a great healer, describing how their emotions had changed from grief, depression or disbelief to acceptance over the months and years.

Some of the people who had been bereaved described their feelings about having to decide what to do with the deceased person's belongings. This can be another difficult time, with painful decisions to make, and several said they hadn't reached that stage yet. One woman explained how she'd had to take care of her sister-in-laws belongings after she died.

With time, many people said they were able to focus more on the positive times they'd shared with the deceased person. Thinking about how he or she would have wanted them to live and be happy had helped them start getting on with life again. For most people, however, the anniversary of the deceased person's death or special days, such as birthdays and Christmas, were often very difficult and emotional.

Many people said that having someone die in, or after being in, ICU had been a profound, traumatic and, often, life-changing experience. As time went on, the earlier pain and emptiness had begun to fade and, very gradually, they'd been able to think about the future, while knowing they could never forget the deceased person. 

See our 'Resources' section for links to further support around bereavement.
Last reviewed August 2018.
Last updated November 2010.


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