Grief’s ripple effect

When someone dies, we tend to think of the difficulties of grief being contained largely only to those that knew them well and existed within their innermost circles or saw them on a regular basis. For the most part, this is true in terms of the intense feelings and mood swings of grief.


What is the ripple effect?

There does, however, exist a ripple effect within grief that can pass from those closely affected by the death to those affected by the grief of the ones mourning the death. When someone you care about deeply is going through one of the hardest times of their life, it’s hard to be unaffected.

In part, their sadness becomes your sadness. You feel helpless standing on the sidelines able only to watch and support, but not fix their hurt for them. This can fill you with your own set of complicated emotions, particularly if the person’s death was shocking or unnatural.

What feelings might the ripple effect cause?

You might be angry with the person that died for causing your loved one so much pain by dying, whether this was something they could control or not. You might be angry at them for taking their own life, putting themselves in a dangerous situation, or simply for not taking better care of themselves. As with other types of grief, the thoughts and feelings don’t have to be rational for them to be real. We tend to be protective of those we love, so it’s natural to be angry at the root cause of their suffering.

On the other hand, we might feel guilty as a result of the ripple effect. Guilt towards the person we care about for not being able to take their pain away, or for finding it hard to cope with – which is normal by the way, grief is rarely easy to live around. But also guilt towards the person that died - maybe for feeling angry at them for dying or perhaps wondering if there was anything we could have done to prevent the death, could we have offered more help or support? In which case it’s handy to remember that hindsight is a wonderful thing. If you knew then what you know now, maybe there was something that could have been done or said that might have changed things, but we can only work with the knowledge available to us at any given time.

Whilst we might not like to admit it, we may feel twangs of jealousy towards the person that died. As our loved one’s sole focus is on them, it’s natural to feel a little pushed out or even like they mattered more than we currently do. Again, rationally, we may know that we matter very much and that our loved one just doesn’t have the capacity right now to give us their normal level of attention, but it can still be hurtful and frustrating.  

Change is scary, it casts us into the unknown causing uncertainty and anxiety. It’s natural then, to feel threatened by the change brought about by a loved one’s grief. Grief changes people, in some ways temporarily, and in others for life. We may feel like we do not recognise them since the loss, particularly in the early days. If they were someone that has always laughed, they may now be more serious. If they were usually carefree, they may now worry more. They may have been someone you could always count on for a fun day out or adventure, but now they’d rather stay in.

The change in them can mean changes for you and your life as well which is disconcerting and doesn’t feel fair. We might feel frustrated that our life has changed because of someone we didn’t even know and, whilst we might feel ashamed of this, after all - someone has died - it is natural to feel this way on some level. It’s just important not to let it get in the way of you supporting your loved one, you don’t want them to feel like you’re trying to rush them through it.

End note

Grief is tricky and awkward, both for those living through it as well as those around it. Cut yourself some slack for any unwanted feelings that come up during this time and for not always knowing the best way to support your grieving loved one.

If you’re finding the situation hard to deal with, it may be worth seeking support for yourself, which will help you cope with the changes to your life at the moment, and allow you to be more present for the grieving loved one in your life.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Derby, DE22 2DL
Written by Dandelions Bereavement Support
Derby, DE22 2DL

Fay has worked with bereaved people since leaving school at the age of 17. Originally training as a Funeral Arranger, she went on to specialise in bereavement support a few years later. In 2020 she qualified as a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor, and has written two grief activity books to date.

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