What Happens When Someone Dies?

When someone dies, you may have many different feelings and questions. This pamphlet cannot explain or answer all of them but it can help you to understand some of the things that happen, "WHEN SOMEONE DIES".


The feelings you have when someone dies, may seem strange and mixed-up. You may feel: 

  • "Sort of relieved" 

  • "Really angry" 

  • "Like you could cry" 

  • "Like it's a dream" 

  • "Sort of Guilty"

No matter how you feel, remember that all your feelings are normal. They are part of your mind and body's natural reaction to one of life's painful experiences called GRIEF.

Psychologists (doctors) say that grief can be a positive experience for us when we learn to work through our mixed up feelings by talking about them. But talking about feelings isn't always easy!

To begin with, you don't need to understand your feelings to talk about them. It is enough to express them just because you have them! Sometimes it helps to begin by letting off steam in a safe way. CRY, SHOUT, RUN OR JUST BEAT A PILLOW! Then, don't stop - START! Start talking, writing, singing, painting, creating things that tell about your feelings in anyway you can.

While you're at it, share those feelings with someone else. If you're not sure what to say, talk about the first thing you think of when you remember the person who died, or recall what happened. Where were you? What did you do or say? What was special about him or her? It takes some courage and it may hurt to talk about it, but remember - ITS THE KIND OF HURTING THAT HELPS YOU HEAL


The funeral is made up of many customs that bring people together to share and to worship. If you have not seen them before, (or even if you have), it may be difficult to understand how they could help you with the hurt you feel. Learning something about them may make them seem less confusing.


The funeral is meant to be a time of sharing and worship - like a church service. There may be music, singing, prayers and readings, and other special ceremonies where people express their faith together. Although there may still be sadness and tears for many days to come, the funeral can be a first step toward seeing pain and sorrow through religious beliefs that bring hope and strength.


When someone dies, adults have mixed up feelings much like yours. 

They may not cry - or hardly stop,

They may talk or laugh a lot,

They may seem mad, and so unfair,

Or act as though you're just not there.

They may be very loving too,

Explaining all they can to you.

But itís hard to know how to behave,

When others say, "you must be brave"

Adult feelings, just like your feelings, need to be shared. When someone dies, the bravest thing you both can do is to share them. No matter how old or young you are, sharing tears and talking are the best things for healing feelings.


It is an old custom for the body to be "viewed" in a coffin so that people may "pay their respects". Feeling like you want to see the person and yet you don't is very NORMAL. Doctors explain, however, that because we have come to know the "spirit" or "real person" through the body, so we may better realize that life has left it, when we can see the body for our- selves. While no one may want to face this fact of death, time has shown that the sooner we face it, the sooner we begin to heal our grief. In fact many people discover that viewing is much easier than they imagined. When the body of the person looks peaceful, you may find that you feel more peaceful too.


After the funeral or memorial service, the coffin and body are most often buried or cremated. When cremation is chosen, the coffin and body are placed in a special chamber and heated to very high temperatures. Afterwards, pieces of mineral deposits, which make up the bones and cannot be burned, are all that remain of the body. These remains are reduced to small particles and may then be buried, or placed in a niche in a "columbarium". Sometimes they are scattered over a special area of land or water at the choice of the family.


Depending on how close you were to the person who died, your feelings will go through many changes in the months that follow the funeral. Even when grief heals normally, it may take a year or two before some feelings become comfortable again. Through this time, all the members of your family need each other. Take time to listen and love one another. When you need someone to talk to, your pastor, school counsellor and teachers, as well as the funeral director, may be very helpful. All around you, if you look for them, you will discover people who have survived the grief experience and learned to grow from it.

Most of all, remember the importance of talking about what you feel; of facing those thoughts and feelings even when they hurt, and learning to accept them. Only in this way can grief help you to grow stronger and more sensitive for the many experiences, both happy and sad, which life holds for you.

Reprinted with the permission of the author for the exclusive use of The Compassionate Friends, South Africa.

Copyright 1983 B.H. CON LEY