Bereavement is a complex and very personal experience. Losing someone you love or care deeply about can be extremely painful, leaving you with difficult emotions that are hard to understand – the pain and sadness you experience feels like it will never ease.
Grief is a natural response to loss; it’s the emotional suffering we feel when something or someone we are attached to is taken away, and so follows the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief.
Everyone grieves differently – grieving is a highly individual experience and can depend on many things; your coping style and life experience, cultural influences, religious beliefs, the strength of relationship to the deceased, the nature of the loss, and even past attachment experiences, therefore no two people have the same experience of grief and loss. It is important to understand that there is no normal way of grieving – healing happens gradually and cannot be rushed. Some people may feel better in a matter of weeks or months, but for others it can take much longer. Remember, each person grieves differently and for many reasons, therefore it is important not to put yourself under pressure to feel better before you are ready. Whatever your experience, it is essential to be patient with yourself and allow the grief process to unfold naturally. Eventually, you carry multiple emotions around with you at the same time, you can pick your life up, maybe find love again, feel joy and happiness, but still feel grief. You can be happy but continue to miss the person you’ve lost. Eventually, you learn to carry it all with you, like a suitcase of feelings and emotions and experiences. Grieving is messy and complicated – and that is normal.
Feeling lonely, overwhelmed, frightened, or guilty in response to your loss is a completely natural reaction. Some people express their emotions whilst others don’t, and although crying is a normal response to sadness, those who don’t cry often feel guilty about not doing so, but this does not mean the pain that is felt is any less.
Although theories around grief have changed in recent years, it is often helpful to see grief in terms of stages:
- Denial: Unable to accept it’s happening
- Anger: Blaming others, angry at friends/family and even the deceased for leaving you
- Bargaining: If only you had done something else, what you would change to make the person come back etc
- Depression: Overwhelming sadness
- Acceptance: Finding peace with the loss
You may recognise some of these stages yourself, but not all people go through all of the stages, and certainly not in this order, indeed, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages, while some experience one stage then go back to a previous stage – this is all part of the complex process of working through a loss and demonstrates how unpredictable it can be. Do not worry about what you should, or should not, be feeling. These stages are a rough outline in helping to understand some of the confusing elements that grief presents. As there is no typical loss, there is no typical response to loss.
As well as these stages, grief can be thought of as a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs and highs and lows. The difficult periods should eventually become less intense and shorter in duration as times passes, but it takes time to work through loss. Even some time after a loss, events and anniversaries can still evoke a strong sense of grief, but in the early months following a loss these reminders can be particularly hard to bear.
Anniversaries and reminders are hugely personal and can create powerful memories and feelings, they can be happy memories for some, while for others they can create sadness, fear, regret and anger. Guilt is a particularly difficult emotion to process – you may feel guilty about what has been said or done, you may feel guilty about what was left unsaid, even feelings related to not thinking about the deceased for a period of time. It can help to understand that certain occasions will increase these feelings, and so you may find it helpful to spend some time trying to work out, in advance, how best to manage them and which arrangements will need to be made to best suit your needs and possibly those of others who share your loss. Here are some of the ways you may want to think about managing anniversaries and reminders:
- You may wish to avoid the pain by being away from the people and places which bring sad memories, in which case, plan some time out
- Alternatively, you may want to be around more people than usual who help you to remember your loved one, you may want to mark the occasion by something meaningful, a favourite restaurant or a personal place of remembrance
- Some people choose to do nothing and maintain their normal routine, but equally you may want to mark the event in a way that is special for you and the person you have lost, this is a highly personal choice
- You may find support around these difficult times from religious, cultural or community practices
- Join a support group – sharing your pain and memories with others who have are experiencing loss can help. Contact local hospitals or hospices who may have information on local meetings – alternatively check the ‘local groups and events’ page on my website for details of local groups.
As time passes, anniversaries and reminders can help us to focus instead on memories of happy times.
The road to recovery…
Remove the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary– thoughts such as ‘I should be over this by now’ or ‘I should be strong and not weak in front of others’ are not helpful coping strategies. Find your own path – this is your journey.
Take one day at a time– it can be difficult to look too far into the future – focus instead on the next 24 hours.
Always ask for help if you need it– others can feel powerless in trying to help, even though they want to. Make sure you explain to those around you that you sometimes want to talk, or need some company, even just to listen when you need it. Do not feel this should only last a certain amount of time – you may need continued support after the first few months. Surround yourself with those who are willing to help – some may find it more difficult than others. Often those who have been through something similar may want to talk about their experiences too!
Finally, if you are really struggling to cope then there are several options you can look into; online resources such as those below can help, speak to your GP, or contact me to see how bereavement counselling may offer the help you need to process and understand your loss.