Bereavement is traditionally seen as the response we have to the death of a significant person in our lives. However, we can experience bereavement from a loss of anything that is significant to us.

This may be the loss of a job, or the agony of losing a much-loved pet. There are many different kinds of loss, such as the loss of our health, a marriage, of a childhood, a pregnancy, your home, or the loss of one’s own life and future through terminal illness, for example.

On a political front in the UK recently, many are feeling the loss of ‘belonging’, possibly soon to be denied their sense of European identity through the process of Brexit.

Grieving in Bereavement

Grieving refers to the psychological element of bereavement, the feelings of suffering that we experience from that loss.

In our counselling and psychotherapy work we so often hear things like “I don’t think I have properly grieved,” or “I feel so angry all of the time,” or “I can’t stop crying,” and even “Shouldn’t I have got over this by now?”

People struggle to know just what to do when having lost something, or someone precious to them.

There are theoretical models about the process of grieving that explore how you might come to terms with death. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book “On death and dying” (1969), is one of the well-known ‘stage process’ models. She suggests 5 phases:

  1. Denial and Isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

You can get stuck in any of these phases, which halts the resolution of this process.

However, such models are increasingly being challenged, as it’s now seen that there is perhaps never a full resolution to loss. While death is permanent, the process of loss is not.

How can a parent find full closure from the loss of a child? How can a child be fully recovered from the loss of a parent? Both experiences change the individual permanently. Not just in the loss of that person, but in the reality that we face of the vulnerability of life for us all.

Bereavement take us to two experiences:

  1. The pain and suffering of that loss; what happened and what this person/thing/experience meant to us, and how to continue without them but hold them within somehow.
  2. An intense period of self-reflection. What does it mean about my life and how I am living it now I am confronted with the knowledge of death.

We don’t believe there is a ‘treatment’ and that you can be crammed into a step-by-step process of grief. This may feel somewhat stress provoking and lacking safety, as many people desire to be ‘normal’ in their grief and want to know the positive specific outcome they are working towards.

However, what we see as incredibly valuable is working towards your own way of expressing your pain, and situating yourself back into a meaningful and purposeful life. This is about you and your own personal life experiences, beliefs and values and helping you find your way back into feeling alive.

What can you do that will help lessen the pain?

  1. Come to terms with the idea that there is no ‘one’ process or answer to grief, and that there is no time limit in which grieving should take place! Compassion towards your pain, and acceptance of yourself is the most helpful and kindest thing you can do.
  2. Protect yourself against those who think you should be ‘over it’ by now! There is no time … there is only your time.
  3. Keep a diary of your thoughts and feelings. Set aside 15 minutes each day to just write about whatever occurs to you. You can start with “I don’t know what to write ….” – and then see where this takes you. Think about your loss and how it feels and what it means to you.
  4. Explore with another how you feel about the loss. Reminisce … share memories (good and bad). Gain others perspectives on what they feel about the loss as well.
  5. Talk and talk and talk! This is what will make the difference. It doesn’t matter that you talk about the same things … you just need to talk.

Whether you have just experienced the first big loss in your life, or you have experienced many, grief and bereavement is always hard to bear. Remember though, that feeling sad, frustrated, angry, or whatever you personally feel, is a normal human reaction.

Whilst it might feel counter-intuitive, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is let yourself feel the emotions.

After all, feeling is healing.

Sandra.

Author: Dr Sandra Westland

Dr Sandra Westland is a UKCP registered existential psychotherapist and counsellor with over 17 years experience of helping people with a wide variety of psychological issues. She is a bestselling author of 4 books, and enjoys running workshops both in the UK and Internationally, as well as teaching, and writing books and programmes to help people become all they can be. Her academic speciality is in the subject of body image and obesity.

Originally posted 2017-04-03 16:04:57.