Bereavement - Learning to live with loss

 Experiences of grief and loss  following a bereavement are a major life event that we all encounter at some point. The more complicated losses can include the death of a child or parent when young, when someone close has ended their life , enduring multiple losses in a major disaster or a series of deaths close together. But any loss has an impact and can disrupt normal life for a significant time The initial stages, even when a death or loss is anticipated, can be shock, denial, numbness and anger. 

Most people have an internal story they tell themselves about bereavements and the losses they experience. This will probably include a view of the world or God in allowing terrible things to happen and then a story about the death of this particular person. It is also very normal to blame others or ourselves in not recognising health problems or helping a suicidal person. We can also replay the mistakes we feel we made in not spending enough time with the person, especially the opportunities we failed to take to see the person one more time. 

My own view is, in general terms, the following.  The world we live in is complex and imperfect. I am not sure that there is a deity, supreme being or God but I do see people can find comfort in their faith and a belief in an afterlife. Before we were born we did not exist in space and time and I tend to think this happens when we die. So, we seem to have this one lifespan, certainly on this earth. Although we can look after ourselves, we all know people who did this and then seemed to die early from an incurable disease or a senseless accident. Ultimately we have to tolerate the uncertainty that life offers and that includes many positive and negative events because we are all hostages to fortune. Loss and grief, alongside happiness are inevitable and we are all ultimately mortal so death will be part of our experience of life.

When we experience loss it can be lonely, debilitating and we all will inevitably wonder about the point of life and how we will be able to continue. There is recovery though

it will probably be a longer, more difficult road than we want it to be. There is no way of taking a short cut but we can allow ourselves to do some things to help. These will not always work but they can at least be tried. 

Grief is tiring and hard work. You are allowed to have a break from it and do some activities that distract or soothe you, though initially this may be too difficult. It is not being disloyal to the person who has died to begin to find purpose and enjoyment in life, they would not want you to be in this much pain all the time just to honour their memory. 

People will say stupid and annoying things, but they are trying to support you. You will be oversensitive but try not to hold onto to bitterness forever about this. Do allow yourself be comforted by others even if their attempts are clumsy, they may not have the right words but they are trying. People will seem to have forgotten your pain at times but the world does still relentlessly continue. 

The reason you may feel lonely and isolated is because this grief is uniquely and only yours. In the past you probably didn’t understand other people’s grief (surely they must be over it by now)  or may have said some inconsiderate things yourself. Allow yourself time to grieve and don’t be disappointed when it seems to be one step forward and two steps back, it may take much more time than you want. Time does pile up and provides some healing eventually.

You may notice that you when you eventually recover you have a different way of explaining the loss. You realise that you did try your best or forgive yourself for being busy and overlooking something that later felt crucial. You will understand that it is impossible to continually be on guard to stop serious harm coming to others. The world is unfair and unjust but there are also many people who try their best to help and support others. 

If you continually relive the method of the death then this can be harmful to you and does not change the facts and damages your ability to attend to the present and the future.  It might be more helpful to start to  think about the good memories of the person and the reasons why they were important to you. If someone has died who was very difficult in your life, it is normal to be have contradictory emotions of relief , grief or anger.

Grief can be like a storm passing through even a long time after the death. Unexpected things might be a trigger and you might not be able to avoid it. But it will pass. If you like to mark the anniversary of a death or find the lead up to one very difficult,  then having a ritual might help. If eventually you find yourself shocked that you have forgotten a birthday or anniversary day then this is normal too. It means you have given yourself permission to take the teachings or special memories you had from this person forward with you and are living your life again.

If you feel continually stuck in your grief as though it has just happened, you relive traumatic memories around the death or have a long term depression, then it might be worth seeking more professional support. 

The national IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy)  programme can help with traumatic memories but doesn’t provide counselling for bereavement. The Samaritans is not just for people with suicidal thoughts or feelings but offer a 24/7 supportive listening service for anyone who feels in despair. 

Your local GP may know more about local resources and many workplaces have schemes that provide access to some counselling support. There are local counselling charities but some may have a religious ethos that you may or may not find helpful. If you consider private counselling, you can someone accredited by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy on their Find a therapist website.

© Susan Thurlow