This is an excerpt from the book: Coping with Grief: A Guide for the Bereaved Survivor by Bob Baugher. You can order it at:


Understanding the Reaction of Others

A Feeling That Everyone Else is Carrying on with “Life as Usual”

  • At this time in your life the world looks different:

Artificial                                  Frightening

Callous                                    Indifferent

Cold                                        Insensitive

Dreary                                     Lonely

Dull                                         Uncaring

  • You may find yourself surprised and hurt that, despite the fact that your life has totally changed, the rest of the world appears to operate just as it always has. Every day you see people going about their business as if nothing has changed.
  • A common, but unexpressed feeling among bereaved people is their wish to say to the world, “Hey everybody, don’t you understand my life has been turned upside down and that everything is different?”
  • You may begin to have feelings of self-pity. You look at your life and feel sorry for what has happened to you.
  • You will find yourself trying to put up with people who gush over their children, their grandchildren, their spouse, or other loved one while you are coping with the death of yours.
  • Even those people who know you well will not understand some of your grief reactions.
  • You may find you will receive support from some of the people around you during the first few months after the death. But, after a while some of your friends and family members may expect you to be “over” your loss. This is a common reaction by people in our society partly because they are concerned you might “hang onto your grief too long.” Because of their own discomfort watching your reactions to the death, they may want you to “get better.”
  • Another reason some people in your life don’t want to be around you is because they do not want to deal with your pain, they may be afraid of saying the “wrong thing,” or they may somehow think that it is “catching.


Recognize that, although the special relationship you had with your loved one cannot be totally understood by others, you can still ask people to tell you stories of your loved one. You can write, audio- or video them.  A way to stimulate their memories is by asking them to remember:

Emotional: embarrassing moments, funny moments

Food: places/restaurants, meals—particular foods, smells


Locations: vacations, shopping, school

Music: favorite songs, instruments

Organizations/groups/clubs: scouts, sports, hobbies

Outings: parties, picnics, concerts, sporting events

Possessions: pets, toys, clothing, games, car

Relationships with others: parents, siblings, friends

Spiritual beliefs: church experiences, readings, prayers

Support given to or received from your loved one


Values observed in your loved one

One way to get people to respond to your request for memories and stories is to do the following:  on the next holiday in which you send out cards include a blank page asking for written memories.  You can use the list above.

On the other hand, be ready for some of the awkward things well-meaning people may say because they may not know what to say:

You’ll get over it.              It was God’s will.    He lived a long life.

I know how you feel.         Don’t worry.                       It’s for the best.

At least she didn’t suffer.   Life goes on.                      Things happen for a reason.

Count your blessings.         You must accept it.            It’s time to move on.

You can always remarry.    You are so strong.            You can have more children.

If you really had faith in your religion (or God), you wouldn’t feel this way.

Remember, they are looking for words they hope might ease your pain and they are not sure what else to say.  Try to bear with them. For the special people who have helped you in your time of need consider writing “Thank you” notes.

Continue to look for ways to get the kind of support you need.

You can say to people things such as:

When you visit the gravesite, leave a note or some indication to say, “I was here.”

Keep a picture of my loved one in your home.

Please remember the birthday.

Text me. Call me. Email me.

Dreams and Feelings of Presence

  • Experts on dreams tell us that the average person:

Has an average of 3-6 dreams per night

Does not remember most dreams

Has dreams that consist of random combinations of events and

memories from the previous day or past experiences

Has dreams that are not clearly interpretable


  • Some common themes of death-related dreams are:

The person is alive and you are not surprised by this

The person is alive, you are surprised, and:

Your loved one helps you make sense of the situation or

You are confused in the dream at their state of living

The person is present, but somehow “dead” in the dream

The person’s absence in the dream signifies their death

  • Another common occurrence among bereaved persons is to feel a form of “contact” has been made. Examples can be put into four categories:

Visual —   such as reports of seeing the person standing in the

kitchen or at the foot of the bed

Auditory—such as reports of hearing the voice of the person or

hearing one’s name called when no one else is around

Tactile —  such as reports of feeling the person in bed or feeling

a hand on one’s shoulder or feeling tapping on the arm

           Olfactory-such as reports of smelling a loved one, their body smell,

            cologne, or other scent

  • Some people report “feeling” the presence of their loved one. The fact that these type of reports by bereaved people are so common suggests this experience can be considered normal.  In addition, the reported experiences do not typically occur when the person has been asleep or is about to fall asleep.  Both the dreams and reports of a “contact” occur on an irregular basis.
  • Other people think contact has been made through signs from their loved one:

Lights flickering or other electrical occurrences.

The appearance of butterflies, birds, animals, flowers, rainbows or other objects

Special songs

Items moved

A light touch


If you have not had a dream or other experience, this does not mean you miss your loved one any less than people who have many of these experiences. You may feel left out and wonder why it has not happened to you. What follows are suggestions that may help.

Although most people remember few of their dreams, there is something you can do. Keep a paper and pen next to your bed and the moment you awaken during the night or the following morning ask yourself, “What did I dream?” Because dreams are not typically stored in our long-term memory, they fade fairly quickly upon awakening.  Therefore, do not rely on your memory—write it down, morning or night.

If you wish to increase the likelihood of having a dream of your loved one, say over and over to yourself as you are falling asleep, “I am going to have a pleasant dream about _____.”

Sometimes writing or “talking out” a dream can help. At other times it does little good.  If you have a negative dream concerning your loved one, do not assume your mind is trying to convey some deep, hidden message.  While dreams often have a story-content to them, most experts argue that, for the most part, they defy clear and unambiguous interpretation. Don’t let someone else interpret your dream. Instead ask yourself the one important dream question, which is, “With this dream, what is my mind trying to tell me?” If no answer emerges, then there is no answer.

If you have a bad dream or a nightmare and you are concerned about having it again, a suggested way of dealing with this is to follow these steps:

  1. Write down the dream in detail
  2. At the frightening part write a change to the story to make it become positive.
  3. When your head hits the pillow, practice the revised dream in your mind.

There is no clear answer to the question of reported contacts between the bereaved and their deceased loved ones.  One side of the argument states that people in grief are so desperate for comfort from the intense pain they are experiencing that they inadvertently create conditions or notice events they interpret as “contact” with their loved ones.  The other side argues that, to the person having the experience, the contact feels very “real” and unlike any dream or waking experience.

Note:  Some readers of this book may be concerned that the issue of “contact” has been discussed without a warning to the reader that such reports are impossible to verify scientifically.  They may also be concerned such material may cause a bereaved person to begin to imagine having had such contacts.  In writing this section, it was believed it was better to simply bring forward the experiences of many readers rather than try to explain them away.

Bob Baugher

Bob Baugher, Ph.D., is a Psychology Instructor at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington where he teaches courses in Psychology and Death Education. As a trainer for LivingWorks he has trained more than 1,000 people in suicide intervention. He has given more than 600 workshops on grief and loss across the U.S. including England, South Africa, and Namibia. As a professional advisor to the South King County Chapter of The Compassionate Friends, Bob has been invited to speak at many of the TCF national conferences during the past 20 years. He earned a certificate in Thanatology from the Association for Death Education and Counseling and in the 1990s he was a clinician with University of Washington School of Nursing Parent Bereavement Project. Bob has written several articles and seven books on the bereavement process. Reach him at Dr. Baugher appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss Coping with Anger and Guilt After a Loss.

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