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Forty six bereaved relatives were assessed by a general practitioner four to eight weeks after the bereavement. In 36 (78·3 per cent) the immediate reaction to bereavement was one of numbness or stupefaction; in seven (15·2 per cent) emotional relief occurred; and in three cases (6·5 per cent) there was no obvious immediate reaction. The numbness reaction was limited in duration to a week or less in 31 of the 36 instances.
At four to eight weeks after bereavement 29 (63·0 per cent) of the subjects continued to experience difficulty in coming to terms with their loss. Twenty subjects reported guilt feelings and a similar number expressed aggressive reactions. The bereaved subjects tended to increase their consumption of cigarettes and alcohol, while their appetite and weight tended to be reduced. Thirty six (78·3 per cent) of the subjects reported physical symptoms, notably headache, dizziness, generalised aches, and abdominal complaints.
The most prominent psychological features of bereavement were found to be: preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased, idealisation of the lost person, depressive mood, and loneliness.
The findings are discussed and reference made to the role of the family doctor in the management of bereavement reactions.