Understanding Bereavement and Loss
Bereavement and loss, although associated with pain, loss, sadness and feelings of numbness, is a normal part of the human experience. Everybody experiences loss and bereavement in the course of their lives. Following a loss of great significance (e.g. death of spouse or parent, divorce, loss of a livelihood), a person normally moves from a period of acute emotional pain and sadness to a more comfortable emotional state over a period of time. This movement is often described as the grief process. It may take from several months or years to adequately complete the process. No one can keep a person from grieving process; however we can support, validate and normalise the grieving experience which does help and support the process. We can also help to provide a safe space for a person to talk about their loss which can also help in the healing process. Understanding the grieving process is very helpful and the following information may be useful for you if you are experiencing a period of bereavement.
Different Types of Bereavement and Loss:
Loss can take many forms – death, unemployment, divorce, leaving home etc. Mourning is a normal response to change in the process of our life time. Often the loss of a relationship, whether through a break-up, separation or a divorce can be an especially complicated form of grieving as the person experiences rejection, anger and loss and a myriad of other mixed feelings. There are often complicated issues related to the separation and break up of a couple who have children and are parenting together. It can be very helpful to identify and work through the grieving process and how it is impacting on each member of the family.
Emotional Experiences of loss and grief can include:
Physical Sensations of loss and grief can include:
- Hollowness in the stomach
- Tightness in the chest/throat
- Sensitive to noise
- Muscle weakness
- Lack of energy
- Dry mouth
Grieving/ Mourning behaviours can include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Appetite disturbances
- Absent minded
- Social withdrawal
- Avoiding reminders
- Searching and calling out
- Restless over activity
- Treasuring objects which are associated with the deceased
Thoughts during this period of grieving /mourning period can include:
- Sense of presence
What can help you during the Bereavement Process?
Accept your emotions. Any significant loss, such as death of a loved one, hurts. It is difficult to say goodbye—to realize that in your lifetime you will never see or touch your loved one again. Why pretend that you are not experiencing turmoil by “keeping a stiff upper lip”? Your emotions are a natural response to the death of a loved one.
Express your feelings. Deal with your conflicting feelings openly. A feeling that is denied expression is not destroyed; it remains with you and often erupts at inappropriate times. It does hurt to use words like dead, widow or widower; but you must confront reality and put your feelings into words. Cry if you want to. It is a natural expression of grief for both men and women. Crying is the emptying out of the emotions so healing can occur.
Don’t expect miracles overnight. Allow sufficient time for the grieving period to run its course. Don’t compare yourself with others in similar positions. Their smiles might not reveal the depth of their sorrow. Be yourself. Don’t pretend grief beyond the time you need to grieve. Nor do you need pretend recovery before you are recovered.
If you have children, bring them into the grieving process. Death is a crisis that should be shared by all members of the family. Children too often are forgotten by grieving adults. Silence and secrecy deprive them of an important opportunity to share grief. When in your heartache you overlook your children’s feelings, you heighten their sense of isolation.
Don’t escape into loneliness. If you isolate yourself, stay alone too much, your home will become a protective shell that keeps you from facing the challenges of life. At the same time, look at your priorities so you don’t overload your circuits. Stick with what is important and necessary now and don’t worry too much about what is down the road.
Keep in touch with your friends. Let the right people know that you need their support and feedback. They cannot bring you comfort unless you talk with them and share your feelings. They cannot bring you comfort unless you allow them to enter your sorrow. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries are especially difficult times to be alone. Plan ahead to spend these days with caring and understanding friends.
Join a support group. At some point you may be disappointed in the reactions of your friends or acquaintances or close friends. Perhaps you don’t hear from them as often as in the past. They may seem awkward or uneasy in your presence or even avoid your company. That’s why self-help groups have been successful in providing necessary emotional intervention through the crisis of great loss. People in these groups understand your fears and frustrations; they have been there before themselves
Therapy may be very beneficial. Sorrow leaves its imprint on the healthiest of personalities. You may need more than the warmth of a close friend or understanding of a fellow sufferer. A professional therapist who is not emotionally attached to you may be more effective to assist you in dealing with your intense feelings or maintaining a clear perspective.
Be nice to yourself. By treating yourself well, you could become your own best friend. While you need caring and supportive people, you also need moments of solitude to find yourself. A little withdrawal and reflection will allow you to become more relaxed and energized. By taking care of yourself, you will recognize your strengths as well as your weaknesses. You will become more confident that you can manage the challenging days ahead. After all, if you’re not nice to yourself, who will be?
Turn pain into growth. Death ends a life, not a relationship. Through grief, you can become a more understanding, compassionate and sympathetic person. Resolve to live as your beloved would want to live, love as they would want you to love, and serve others as they would have wanted you to serve. The Chinese word-picture symbol for crisis is the same as the symbol for opportunity. This is your new challenge.
Understanding Complicated Issues in Bereavement and Loss:
Sometimes a person may experience what is described as complicated grief. Complicated grief is an intense and long-lasting form of grief that may take over a person’s life in an unhelpful way. It is natural to experience acute grief after someone close dies, but complicated grief is different. Complicated grief is a form of grief that takes hold of a person’s mind and won’t let go. People with complicated grief often say that they feel “stuck.” For most people, grief never completely goes away but recedes into the background. Over time, healing diminishes the pain of a loss. Thoughts and memories of loved ones are deeply interwoven in a person’s mind, defining their history and colouring their view of the world. Missing deceased loved ones may be an ongoing part of the lives of bereaved people, but it does not interrupt life unless a person is suffering from complicated grief. For people with complicated grief, grief dominates their life rather than receding into the background.
The term “complicated” refers to factors that interfere with the natural healing process. These factors might be related to characteristics of the bereaved person, to the nature of the relationship with the deceased person, the circumstances of the death, (e.g., tragic circumstances, suicide, etc.), or to things that occurred after the death. People with complicated grief know their loved one is gone, but they still can’t believe it. They say that time is moving on but they are not. They often have strong feelings of yearning or longing for the person who died that don’t seem to lessen as time goes on. Thoughts, memories, or images of the deceased person frequently fill their mind, capturing their attention. They might have strong feelings of bitterness or anger related to the death. They find it hard to imagine that life without the deceased person has purpose or meaning. It can seem like joy and satisfaction are gone forever.
When you might need to see a Therapist:
You might find it helpful to see a therapist if you think you are experiencing complicated grief or feel stuck in your grieving process. It may often be helpful to see a therapist just to discuss your specific experience of grief as the intensity of your experience can feel very overwhelming. Other people might find that their particular experience of grief is different and they might worry that they are unable to grieve. Therapists can help you to understand different experiences of the grieving process including ‘instrumental’ and ‘intuitive’ grievers.