People will often put a hierarchy on bereavement, often minimalizing their own grief. “The woman down the road’s husband died suddenly which is devastating so I can’t moan about my mum dying as she was old”. In these instances, it puts even more pressure on ourselves to “pull yourself together” when we are trying to grieve.
A loss, is a loss, is a loss and we all feel it differently and cope in different ways. Putting pressure on ourselves to “just get over it” is denying ourselves the chance to really grieve and feel the loss and accept that we are actually very sad.
If a loved one has died after a long illness or, perhaps, suicide. It’s common to remember them only at the time of their suffering and to completely focus on their death. The fact that they had a whole life before their death which was rich in memories and packed full of family history is often too painful or hard to tap into. The sudden or drawn out loss of the loved one becomes the memory and it can be traumatic and played out over and over in our heads.
Bereavement work is partly to be able to connect with the memories of the person that has died but is also valuable time to be able to cry and say out loud the true feelings you are carrying around. Often anger is a very strong emotion. Anger at the person who has died, at the situation you have been left in, at the hospital or doctors involved or just angry and you don’t know why.
Often, we can be completely surrounded by well meaning family and friends who want to support and show love to us. But you can easily feel the loneliest person on the plant and also feel that there are certain things you wouldn’t want to “burden” or share with the ones who are supporting us. Coming along for bereavement counselling allows you the freedom to really say how you feel, without being judged and without fear of “upsetting” anyone or “making” anyone else feel upset.
Bereavement brings on a whole cluster of feelings and emotions. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It is important to remember that these feelings don’t necessarily come in that order and acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to “move on and forget” the lost loved one.
A healthy way to grieve is followed in Stroebe & Schut (Death Studies 1999) The Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement. This shows how people can become Loss orientated (grief work, denial/avoidance of restoration changes) and Restoration orientated (doing new things, going back to work, new roles/identity/relationships. To be stuck in either orientation is hard and can get in the way of moving forwards or being able to grieve. What we aim to get to is to be able to bounce between the two. So, its okay to want a distraction and go back to work or see friends some days. Its okay to want to sit and have a cry and really feel your loss on some days. To get a balance of both is what we aim to see.
Basically, give yourself “permission” to grieve. To allow yourself to be sad, to also have a distraction to laugh or be with friends too. It doesn’t mean you are “over it”, it means you are learning to cope with your bereavement.