Supporting the Bereaved

What Am I Supposed to Do Now? Supporting the Bereaved Through the Week Following Services

The pressure to hold services within days following the death of a loved one has been lessened by the availability of cremation which allows families the time to create a personalized approach to saying goodbye. Although the choice of body burial was surpassed by cremation in 2018, many people continue to follow the religious or family tradition of holding a wake and funeral, with subsequent burial of the body.

When a loved one dies, the funeral home is visited, decisions are made quickly, and the family returns home to prepare. Relatives and friends are notified, the obituary is written, clothing is chosen, readings reviewed, pallbearers selected, and photo collages are designed. The next 3 days are filled with people, deadlines, tears, food, hugs, and sleepless nights. And as quickly as it began, it is over, and life is changed forever.

Some believe that returning to work is a blessing—a distraction from grief and change, bringing a sense of normalcy. Others do not work or may have time off to settle into life without their loved one. Either way, the feelings of imbalance and uncertainty prevail, leaving one to question if the pain will stop and if life will move on. The week following services can feel lonely, frightening and uncomfortable, filled with intensity and a loss of purpose. Hospice professionals and volunteers who provide bereavement services may offer the following suggestions to families. These suggestions are messages of hope and gives bereaved family members the permission to let their feelings flow.

Day 1  

Light a candle, sit in front of it, and breathe. Short of feeling suicidal—for which help should be sought—no feelings are forbidden. Anger, frustration, rejection, hopelessness, gratitude, and joy are all allowed, expected, and normal. Worry not about the state of your home, laundry, responsibilities, make up, or returning calls. The day is yours to grieve. This day will pass.

“The whole world can become the enemy when you lose what you love.”

Kristina McMorris).

Day 2

Take a walk, light a candle, sit in front of it, and breathe. Calm your mind and the self-doubt you are experiencing. You have no control over what has happened, you have only to experience it and let it flow through you.

“If there ever comes a day where we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Day 3

Call your best friend or closest family member and cry. Light a candle, sit in front of it, and breathe. You have survived Day 2 and will survive Day 3. Wash a few dishes and take a shower. Today your grief may come in waves. You may experience feelings of disconnection, pure terror, or despair. Embrace the stormy weather.

“It takes strength to make your way through grief, to grab hold of life and let it pull you forward.”

Patti Davis

Day 4

Write a letter to the one you lost. Light a candle, sit in front of it, and breathe. How amazing and powerful are the range of emotions which pour forth. The loss you have just suffered may bring to the surface your grief from the past. Be thankful for it, honor it with your time, and then move on.

“Sometimes, only one person is missing, and the whole world seems depopulated.”

Alphonse de Lamartine

Day 5

Look through photos, read emails or letters from your loved one, smile, and cry. Light a candle, sit in front of it, and breathe. Take a ride with a cup of coffee. The ache in your chest has not diminished but you can nap successfully and wake feeling rested. Your thoughts are quieting and you can prepare to write thank you notes.

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

Mitch Albom

Day 6

Shop for groceries, answer a few voice messages, and light a candle. Sit in front of it and breathe. Listen to some favorite music and remember special times spent with your loved one. Every day brings a series of emotions, questions, and worries. Answers will unfold as the days pass and you allow the grief to surface.

“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us.”

Helen Keller

Day 7

Light a candle, sit in front of it, and breathe. Reflect on the last 6 days and the range of feelings which you have woven into your life and heart. In the weeks and months ahead, use this time as a reminder of your power to survive and thrive. The questions will continue to surface and the answers may be elusive. Trust in your strength and ability to endure.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

Thomas Campbell

For bereaved individuals, surviving the first week after services is a testament to their courage, faith, persistence, and love which they have for themselves and the people they have lost. Their grief will never disappear completely, but it will evolve over time. Hospice professionals and volunteers who serve bereaved families play a special role in the journey through grief. Their compassionate presence and support enable bereaved individuals to feel validated and less lonely in their journey. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, renowned bereavement experts, offered the following statement to bereaved individuals:

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

Hospice providers can support the bereaved to embrace and lean into their grief. In doing so, the healing will begin.  


What’s Your Grief. (n.d.). 64 Quotes About Grief, Coping and Life After Loss. What’s Your Grief. Retrieved from