Common reactions to death

When someone you know dies, it can turn your life upside down. People grieve in many different ways over the death of someone close to them. Find out about common reactions to death and grieving, and what you can do when you’re going through this difficult time.

This can help if:

  • you’re in shock

  • someone has died and you’re not sure how to respond

  • life feels like it’s been turned upside down after someone has died.

Image of young man sitting on a round barrel outside. You can't see his face, only his body from the shoulders down. He is resting his hands in his lap and is slightly hunched over.

Reasons why people react differently to death

Dealing with death, particularly the death of someone you love, is one of the most stressful experiences you can go through. Everyone reacts differently to death, and it’s normal if you feel like you’re riding on a rollercoaster of different emotions. How you react to death can be affected by many things:

  • The type of relationship you had with the person. The new loss may remind you of earlier losses you’ve had, which you may grieve for again.

  • Your gender. Guys are sometimes more likely to express their grief through physical activity. Girls are often more likely to want to share their feelings with others, talk about what’s happening or cry more openly.

  • Your cultural background. Different cultural groups deal with grief in different ways, including how you express your grief through rituals and ceremonies, and different rules around what is considered respectful.

  • Your age. Younger children may not understand that the person isn’t coming back, or why. When you’re older, you understand that the person is gone forever, but you may still find it difficult to take this fact on board.

Common reactions

The most common reaction on hearing of the death of someone close to you is shock. Shock can affect you for a few days or a number of weeks. When you’re experiencing it, you might feel:

  • sick

  • dizzy

  • nauseous

  • dazed

  • numb

  • empty.

You can also feel some unexpected emotions as a result of shock. It’s completely normal to react in ways you can’t control, and none of them are wrong. You might:

  • be in complete disbelief about what has happened

  • feel nothing initially (a completely normal reaction), before you eventually start to feel various emotions

  • react strangely – for example, some people laugh.


When the shock wears off a bit, you’re likely to start grieving. Whatever your experience, don’t stress about how you’re handling it. Everybody grieves in their own way, including:

  • Physically. You might get headaches or nausea, feel tired, or have achy muscles.

  • Emotionally. You could feel sadness, anger, disbelief, despair, guilt or loneliness.

  • Mentally. You might be forgetful, confused, or unable to concentrate and remember things.

  • Behaviourally. You could see changes to your sleeping patterns or to your appetite. You may have more vivid dreams or nightmares. You may or may not want to go out or be around people. You may also experience unusual emotional reactions or feel weepy.

  • Socially. Some friends may avoid you because they don’t know what to say or how to help you. You might also feel pressure to be strong for family or friends, or you may not feel like seeing anyone.

  • Spiritually. Your beliefs may be challenged and you may struggle to have faith in the things that you once believed in.

You need to look after yourself

You’ve got to take care of yourself when someone has died, as the stress can really affect you physically and emotionally. Take some time out to recover and relax. Find out about some things you can do to help you cope.

If you feel that things are building up, it can help to talk to someone you trust. If you can’t turn to your friends and family, visit your GP or a counsellor. They’ll be able to suggest some things you can do to help you through the grieving process. You don’t have to cope with it alone.

What can I do now?

  • If you’re struggling to cope, seek professional help.

  • Write down what you’re feeling. It can help with the grieving process.

  • Get some practical tips about coping with hard times.