Coping with the Death of a Loved One

In Memory of David

“I understand all too well the emotions I describe in this pamphlet. Through sharing them with you I hope you will find comfort and courage at this dark time in your life.”

Dorothea Bickerton, Dec 2000
Dorothea Bickerton was the founder of CDARS charity and the Community Drug Helpline. Her legacy lives on as CDARS continues to support individuals struggling with various issues in the local community. CDARS can be contacted here:


This is one of the most difficult situations for anyone to comprehend unless they have experienced such a loss. Each individual deals with the trauma and pain in their own way. All I can hope to do is empathise and offer a few thoughts of comfort which may help you to deal with the many emotions that you will experience. 

Initially, you may feel a ‘numbness’ and be unable to think clearly. This is due to shock. In some cases this feeling of numbness is actually a blessing, as it gives you time to deal with the practicalities of the funeral and other  arrangements which need to be dealt with immediately. 

Sometimes your grief and shock will be mixed with anger and resentment. You’ll ask questions like: “Why did this have to happen to us?” You may feel angry that your loved one left you with so much left unexplained. You may even feel failure; that you did not do enough to prevent their death. However, with time, you will realise that there was really nothing you could have done to alter the outcome. The final act was not of your making, and you played no part in it. 

So, be kind to yourself and try not to torture yourself with questions for which  there are no answers. For a time, your thoughts will continue along these lines, and I can only stress the importance of not allowing them to dominate your thinking. Work your way through these negative thoughts by focusing on all the efforts you made to help your loved one stop their drug use. All the begging and pleading to stop, the attempts to seek appropriate help, and the support you offered. Remember the constant fear for them that you suffered; you were the victim of their drug use too, and this was never of your making. You were in a situation over which you had no control. Please remember this. Find time for yourself to be with loved ones or good friends, who will also feel and understand the loss you are experiencing. 


It may be that you have children who will need to be comforted and helped in coming to terms with what has happened. It is important that you do not shut them out from the truth. If there have been any reports of the death in the  media, these children need to be told the facts otherwise they are at risk of  hearing misconstrued information, for example in the playground, and may even suffer stigma and mental bullying as a result. It will be for you to be strong and honest enough to ensure that your children do not suffer this. A child who has lost a parent or relative does not judge them for their drug use – the child simply feels the loss of a person they loved deeply. Do not allow anyone to  take this away from them; it is important they grow up remembering the happier times and the love they shared. Remember that no matter how much you love your child, you cannot take away their pain or grief. Instead, you can share their grief with them by offering love, patience, and support. Prepare yourself to listen to their pain and encourage them to speak of their feelings. Initially, it is likely that they will become quiet and introverted and it will be up to you to accept this as their way of coping with the situation. Give them the space they need to grieve in the way that they need to, and offer a safe place for them to do so. I realise that this will be hard for you when you already have so much of your own pain, but the pain of bereavement, when shared, makes it easier to endure. You will become stronger by the very act of expressing this love to them. 

Teenagers who have lost a loved one through drug misuse may have great difficulty in coming to terms with their loss. Death is a subject which young people avoid and rarely, if ever, discuss. A young person’s shock and pain can be extremely difficult and they very often do not handle it well, so it’s vital that they are offered suitable support or counselling to help them come to terms with what has happened, and the painful emotions that come with it. This is the time when close friends and family members need to come together to protect and console the younger generations. This is a time for sharing grief and making it clear that it’s alright to cry and to be angry. It is a time to hold your children in your arms and to say nothing at all. It is enough to simply share the pain and grief that you are all experiencing. You need to remember that this trauma has brought up unfathomable and incomprehensible emotions for the teenager, particularly if they were close to the deceased. It will probably take them a long time to come to terms with what has happened, but hopefully, with your care, love and understanding, they will grow stronger and eventually put the sadness behind them. If you can find the courage and resilience to help and support them, you will also grow stronger in your ability to deal with your own grief.  

If you are elderly or alone

You may be in a situation where you have no one to turn to and find yourself entirely on your own with the grief. Loneliness is very difficult, and even harder when you have suffered such an enormous loss. If you are elderly and unable to go out and seek support, may I suggest that you contact one of the helplines such as the Samaritans or The Compassionate Friends, or your local bereavement service. You will hear a friendly voice who will listen to your pain and help you cope with the immediate situation. It’s very possible that you will not feel like sharing your current feelings with anyone and will prefer to retreat within yourself to grieve internally. For a time, this is quite normal, but  please do not get stuck there; do not allow your thoughts and feelings to  become so embittered that they affect your life in the future. You must live  and overcome this suffering; you cannot allow yourself to stay frozen in the  past. Your loved one would neither wish, nor expect you to grieve forever.  

Another way to deal with this isolation is by reading material specifically  written around bereavement; some of the literature is spiritually based and can offer great comfort to you during this time. One author who comes to mind is C. S. Lewis who wrote a wonderful book on the death of his beloved wife A Grief Observed; it reflected so much of the raw pain he felt at the time. If you have access to the internet, the CS Lewis Institute has published a helpful page on grief: 

I do hope you will feel able to explore some of the suggestions I have offered and that it helps you cope in this difficult time. 

How are YOU?

It is impossible to place oneself in another person’s shoes, but I know that around this time, when you are at your most vulnerable, the pain will feel unbearable, and you may find yourself weeping, and with a tight knot in your stomach that stops you from finding any form of relief. This will last for as long as it takes for you to accept your loss.  

You will also experience great tiredness, but probably find that sleep eludes  you. Your mind will plague you with so many thoughts that tears and loss will grow in intensity leaving you quite desolate. This is such a difficult time and there are no words of comfort that are adequate or helpful. This is a stage of grief that you – and only you – can overcome in your own time. 


One thing I have not yet mentioned is the loss of faith that some experience in these circumstances. Many of those who have always believed in God, and  have a strong spiritual faith, suddenly feel themselves unable to believe  anymore. It is as though their God has deserted them. This is an  understandable feeling and ‘being angry with God’ is not unusual. But turning  your back on your faith only serves to make the pain of grief even stronger.  For many, faith is a reason for hope, and without it, we are like lost sheep. 

If you have lost your faith, I sincerely hope you will soon find it again, that once the anger subsides you will begin to enjoy a better relationship with God that will give you comfort for the future. 

Coping with your grief will take time and although they say ‘time heals’, it may be a very long time before you start believing this. In truth, you may always feel the pain, but you will learn to cope with it in time. There will be constant reminders of the loved one that you lost – sometimes when you least expect it. The pain will catch you in an unexpected wave every time you see someone who resembles your loved one; a familiar piece of music or watch a film that triggers a memory; there will be so many other ways that you will get pulled back into the grief. Eventually you will become stronger and more able to cope with these waves. The strength of these waves will lessen with time.  

Learning to live with grief will require resilience and faith, but with these you will begin the long climb back from the depths of your despair. 

Finding Peace

A thought that may comfort you in this difficult time is the sure knowledge that your loved one is now out of the physical, emotional, and mental pain that drug use inflicts, and are at last at peace and free of the world’s problems. My wish is that this thought may also bring peace to you. 

Throughout the time of drug use, and its associated problems, you have  suffered some of the stigma that society apportions to those who use illegal  drugs. Some may still try to level this guilt at you and your family, due to the  manner of your loved one’s death. This is not only unnecessary and cruel, but is based on ignorance. It is a fact that public perception of a drug user is tainted by biased and sensationalised media coverage, and this is a sad reflection on society. Any hurt you may encounter because of these attitudes is not worth a second thought, so do not allow your mind to dwell on it or it to upset you. Try and treat it with the contempt that it deserves. 

A Final Thought

In this pamphlet I have tried to relate to your despair and to offer a better  understanding of the grieving process. However, it’s impossible to cover  every avenue on the subject, and sometimes grief takes you so deep, it seems impossible to see a solution. It is at these times that you may wish that you might also die and thus escape the intolerable anguish, pain, and loneliness you are going through. I understand. You are in a lonely and desolate place, but you will pass through this grief; you will come through  this dark tunnel of despair and see the light. 

My hope is that this pamphlet may, in some small way, be of help and comfort. Finally, I would like to offer you some words written by Henry Scott-Holland who was Canon at St. Paul’s Cathedral and passed away in 1918: 

Death is nothing at all

I have only slipped away into the next room

I am I and you are you

Whatever we were to each other,

That we are still.

Call me by my old familiar name,

Speak to me in the easy way you always used,

Put no difference into your tone,

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed 

At the little jokes we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,

Let it be spoken without effort,

Without the ghost of a shadow in it.

Life means all that it ever meant;

It is the same as it ever was;

There is absolute, unbroken continuity.

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you, for an interval,

Somewhere very near,

Just around the corner,

All is well.

This pamphlet was written by Dorothea Bickerton, Founder and Director of CDARS, 1985-2000