Coping With Bereavement
What is bereavement and loss ?
The word `bereavement' is usually used when a person known to us dies. The word `loss' when we are deprived of a relationship, a country, a job, a friendship, a home etc.
The overall term we use for the personal effect of loss or bereavement is `grieving' We experience grief whether it is for the loss of a person or of something else that was important to us.
Why do we grieve ?
We grieve when something to which we are attached is lost to us. Attachments come from a need for safety and security. Early attachments are to parents or caregivers and tend to endure. Forming attachments with others through life is considered normal behaviour. We also form attachments to places and to objects, which become important to our feelings of safety and security. When we lose a person or object to which we are attached, we mourn its loss and frequently try to find it, or a fulfilling substitute.
How will I recognise grief ?
Very often after a loss we feel quite numb and operate on 'auto-pilot' This protects us from any feeling. However as we begin to take on board what has happened, grief shows itself in many ways -
Physical symptoms :
Chest tightness and Breathlessness
Over-sensitiveness to noise
Low resistance to infection
In feelings :
Guilt and self reproach
Disbelief and confusion
Sense of presence and hallucinations
Overeating or under-eating
Attachment to belongings
The effects of grief are enormous and are very varied. You may experience many of those listed and others that are not listed. It can be quite overwhelming. For many people the unexpectedness and intensity of grief reactions can be quite frightening.
Why do I feel the way I do ?
Why and how we grieve will depend on many things, and everyone will grieve differently. For some grief will be long-lasting, for others it will be relatively brief, and for some it may be delayed.
There are some factors that determine how a person may respond to loss and they can be thought of as:
Who the person was who has died
What sort of relationship you had with that person
How many losses you have had before
What sort of person you are
What are the grieving traditions in your culture
What is going on ?
In grieving someone or something we loved, we go through a process. We do not necessarily go in a straight line - any one who has lost someone will know that there are good days and bad days.
But in our grief we are carrying out different tasks :
To accept that the loss is real. The news may feel so bad that it is difficult to `take it on board' and
there may be times of denial. Denial protects us from the real truth.
To feel the pain of grief. All the feelings, behaviours etc. will be experienced when we fully realise
that the loss has occurred. This can be very painful.
To learn to live without the person who has died. This may mean adjusting to many changes - of status,
role, occupation, location etc. - a new environment without the person who has died.
To withdraw emotional energy and re-invest in another relationship. This final task means that, without forgetting the loss, we move on to a new and different future. Without doing this it will be difficult to make
What can I do to help myself?
Allow yourself to grieve.
Going to the funeral allows you to start to `say goodbye'.
There may be many demands on you to 'be strong', and to hide your sadness, and there may be times when you will want to appear in control. But `being strong' all the time makes it difficult to accept that the loss has happened
Talk about how you feel. Share what you are going through with someone you trust,
Allow yourself to cry, alone or with someone you trust.
Talk about the person who has died, or the thing you have lost. Recalling memories can be sad, but can also help you come to terms with your loss.
Look after yourself - try to eat well, get enough sleep, and avoid using props like alcohol and excessive smoking, to blank out your feelings
Take a break from grief. Listening to music, spending time with friends, doing a sport do not mean that you are not sad, and seeing friends means that they can support you when you need it.
Remember that grief will pass. There will be a `good hour', then a good day, With time, you will be able to take up the threads of your life. You will not forget what you have lost, but you will find that you are able to remember and be content.