Thursday, 25 October 2012

Bereavement - what to do

I have commented before on how I see bereavement as similar to mental illness due to how it manifests itself. Emotions, when they come, often descend on us unexpectedly; are intense, sometimes to the point of being unmanageable and all that seemed solid, permanent and totally reliable can be brought into question. It can be, and often is an extremely frightening experience. On the one hand, one doesn't want to feel sad as our loved ones who have died wouldn't wish it; on the other it can seem disrespectful and a lie not to be when we missed that loved one so much. It is therefore often confusing and can lead to internal emotional turmoil.

Yet bereavement, like mental illness, has often been a taboo subject. It's as if those who have experienced it don't want to be reminded of their own experiences of loss and those who have yet to encounter it don't want to have to acknowledge the likelihood that they will suffer such a loss too. It can therefore be a very isolating experience to undergo. Even family members can find it difficult to share their individual feelings within the family as experiences can be so very different.

On both occasions when I lost my parents it took years to adjust and to find meaning, value and purpose to my life again. Nothing seemed to matter and nothing could fill the hole left from the loss. To begin with I continued as normal with work and my social life as if nothing had happened; later I buried myself in other people's troubles and in particular how the surviving members of my family were coping. Eventually though the shock of the loss wore off and my own need for an outlet for my feelings escalated. I became irritated with everyone and everything but most of all angry.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to be supportive of the bereaved even by simple means. Check they are eating, sleeping and looking after themselves. Help with day to day chores can literally end up being a lifesaver. Taking people out, sharing books, videos, music etc can likewise help even if you are not up to sitting a listening to a person reminisces about their loved one. One of the saddest things I have ever heard was from a lady who said she had stopped visiting her neighbour after that neighbour's daughter had died because the house had become unclean and it was depressing to visit. Such neglect of the bereaved can and has led people to suicide.

Signs to watch out for
Excesses of behaviour and or neglect e.g. if a bereaved person starts to become obsessive over things that never used to bother them or if they care less about their personal appearance. They might start to put on or lose weight rapidly, show less interest in things, or become irritable. In all cases try to encourage that person to talk to someone and make the point that it need not be you thereby given them the widest range of options possible.

From my own experiences I know that it is all too easy to shutdown and not communicate at all, pretend I am fine when I'm not and how easy it can be to have my emotions take over. In all instances I caused myself great harm by not sharing what I was experiencing. Not something that either of my parents would have wished for me.

It is a myth to say that bereavement is similar for everyone, for while there are common factors not everyone will experience all the emotions that are possible. A bereaved person might find themselves getting angry with themselves, the world or even the person who has died for dying and leaving them - or they might not. Such feelings are healthy and normal, but we often need someone there to help guide us through them. Guilt is another emotion that is not uncommon but not necessarily one that everyone experiences.

The reason for this is quite simple - it depends on who we are as individuals and what our relationship was like with the person that died. If you lose a parent you might have got on well with them, or not and your reactions will be accordingly different. If you lose a child, a partner, sibling or friend your response to that loss will be different again. The circumstances of the death are also a major factor in how we are able to manage our emotions and how we react to that loss.

I am not saying here that everyone who experiences a bereavement will become mentally ill, but some do simply because they have no guidance on how to deal with death or support when bereaved. Most people have friends and family (and/or doctors) that are happy to help them work through their loss, but for those who don't I would recommend bereavement counselling of some kind. In common with all forms of counselling, what you share with a counsellor never gets shared with anyone else unless they feel you are a danger to yourself or others. Sometimes those dark secrets and demons that we all have need to be confronted to ensure that they do not trouble us or escalate out of all proportion. Often they become extreme because we don't talk about them, but counselling can help us to avoid suffering unnecessary extremes of distress.

Death is a part of life, but it never needs to permanently cripple the quality of our lives. I, along with billions of people before me, am living proof that we can endure even great loss and go on to embrace life once more. Please don't be afraid to ask your doctor for help if you are bereaved and if you know someone who has suffered a loss, please watch out for them to ensure that they get whatever support they may need to help them to adjust to a new chapter in their lives.

I found I needed a lot of time to pick through all my memories of my parents - it was as if I wanted to firmly fix in my head the very best of all that they were so that I could learn how to be a credit to them by sharing all their best bits with others. The result is happy/sad tears whenever I think of them. I now feel lucky to have known them at all let alone known them so well.

If you are bereaved, please talk to someone and keep talking. If you are on your own and have no family, work colleagues, neighbours or friends you feel you can talk to be brave and talk to your doctor so that they can keep an eye on you and support you through your loss. Remember you are not a burden to anyone, you are justified in feeling sad, confused or lost. It is natural and normal to feel that way. Equally, if you are concerned that you are not feeling anything at all, talk to your doctor as emotions are often confusing and unexpected when we are bereaved.

Finally, please remember that bereavement takes it's own time so never rush or become impatient with it. It is a process of adjustment so you should never feel guilty over what you are feeling. If you live in the UK and need someone to talk to here's a couple of links:

For more links type in ''bereavement counselling'' into your internet search engine (browser) but I would recommend avoiding on line services and forums. Instead, seek help from professionals in person as it can make all the difference.

This article has been written with a particular friend in mind who is suffering from the initial shock of losing a very dear loved one. My thoughts are with them and all who are bereaved.


  1. Thankyou so much for posting this blog, over the years i never greived the death of grandad properly because i was so young, it still hasn't sunk in and i still find myself saying wait a minute grandads dead :/, i cant beleive it, my mum feels the same, this blog is very good :) xx

  2. You are entirely welcome. (Hugs)


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