A few thoughts on grief...
Posted on Jan 30, 2018 by Richard
When we suffer a loss, a process of adaptation and adjustment begins. This process is called grief. Helping a bereaved person through their loss will often involve the people closest to them creating an environment where they are able to work through their grief. This can be very difficult for some people. Here are a few thoughts on why I think this could be.
The process of grieving can be experienced by a number of different types of significant losses in our lives. The predominant one we all experience at some point is the loss of a loved one.
The loss of a significant other can be a life changing event. Along with the loss of the person can be the loss of a lifestyle, routine, security, plans, hopes and dreams. The bereaved person can be left initially in a state of shock and disbelief at the loss. They can then be hit with waves of distress, intense yearning, pining and feelings of emptiness. It can feel as if their life has been torn apart or their loved one 'torn away'. This can often be followed by other emotions such as anger and guilt towards the deceased or towards other people they associate in some way with their loss. They can feel anxious about their life without the presence of the deceased, which can also generate feelings of irritability, restlessness and difficulty concentrating.
Close friends and family are often there immediately to offer words of condolence and comfort, or to listen as the bereaved tries to make sense of their loss. They can be there to help the bereaved person cope and manage the day to day tasks of living, often made very difficult when trying to adjust to the immensity of their loss. This can also include making sense of all the paperwork associated with the loss and booking the all important funeral. When the day of the funeral arrives and people bid farewell to their loved one, it's often at this point that a bereaved person can find themselves go from the crowds at the funeral, to the potential silence and loneliness of their home.
This is not always the case, thankfully. Many people are fortunate enough to have strong family and friendship ties and will continue to receive enough emotional support to eventually allow them to move on from the despair of the loss and find a level of acceptance in both the loss of their loved one and the new life they have ahead of them. For others though, the end of the funeral may see the end of the support.
Why is this? One possible reason is that we find the subject of death very uncomfortable to talk about, so we try and distance ourselves from it when it appears in our lives. This discomfort with death may come from finding ourselves growing up in a society where death is not spoken about. As children, our parents try and protect us from what they see as the frightening reality of death, while our schools rarely approach the existence of death in our lives as part of the curriculum. We are hardly ever given the opportunity to learn about death, so our ignorance of Death ends up with us going along with the notion that it is to be feared. This, in turn, creates an anxiety about Death that sees us turn away from the subject whenever it is presented to us. Is it any wonder that most people can only tolerate talking about it for as short a time as possible with someone who is grieving, as the grieving person may often brings us too close to a subject we find uncomfortable.
Another possible explanation for our reluctance to talk and listen to bereaved people is this very stoic attitude the British have towards talking about our emotions. We are taught that British people "don't do emotions". We maintain an air of strength and dignity in the face of adversity and to show emotion is to show weakness. We cope silently, with pride and we "get on with it". For this reason we can find talking about emotions embarrassing or uncomfortable. This tends to make us either reluctant to talk about them, or impatient with people if we find ourselves in a situation where we have to. Combine this with our anxiety about Death and you have a society with a tendency to either avoid the subject, or create distance as quickly as possible when presented with a highly emotional event, such as a bereavement.
When we are presented with a bereaved person who needs to tell their story, the need to avoid or create distance from the discomfort that this may bring will often result in people using very familiar phrases to stop the bereaved person talking about death.
"Never mind, you'll get over it".
"Pick yourself up, dust yourself down and get on with life".
"No use moping, you have to carry on and live life".
"It's been quite a while since they went, don't you think you should be over it now, for the sake of everyone around you?".
Making a statement along the lines of the ones above are not helpful for the bereaved person. Statements such as these only encourage the bereaved person to repress or burying the thoughts and emotions that form their grief.
Forcing a person to repress their grief in order to make others feel less uncomfortable is never a good thing. The repressed thoughts and emotions do not fade over time; they simply remain repressed at the same intensity and end up affecting the bereaved person's overall behaviour. This complicates the grieving process and can lead to intense, prolonged, delayed or denied mourning, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders and poor physical health. So you can see why it is important to provide the time,space and support for a bereaved person to grieve in their own way and at their own pace.
A fear and anxiety about death and an overall discomfort with talking about emotions are just two of the reasons why we may find supporting bereaved people difficult. There may be other reasons as well. Perhaps people haven't got the time to provide the support? It could be that they don't feel close enough to provide support, or maybe they feel they are too close to provide support. They could have unresolved issues with the deceased or unresolved grief of their own that requires working through. As I mentioned earlier, they might find death a scary subject to talk about or feel embarrassed about having to talk about emotions.This is where the support of a bereavement counsellor can be so important.
Bereavement counsellors can be there to provide the time and space to allow a person to tell the story about their loss without feeling hurried or judged in any way. They have the training to identify emotions attached to unresolved issues that are complicating and prolonging the grieving cycle. They can use this training to help the person to identify these unresolved issues, how they came about and how to change the thoughts that are generating the unhealthy emotions, such as guilt, depression and anger that may be complicating their grief.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling to cope with the grief from a bereavement, give A Space for Me a call. Richard is a trained and qualified bereavement counsellor with experience of working with many types of bereavement and loss.